What Figurative Language Was Used in "The Lady of Shalott"?

"The Lady of Shalott" is a cross between the saddest love story and the most magical fairy tale set in the backdrop of King Arthur's Camelot. Alfred Lord Tennyson winds the web of his tale with the lady who is trapped on the island and is not allowed to look at the world straight on. She can look at the world only through a mirror and must weave the picture of what she sees: lovers, soldiers, friends. One day she turns to look at the handsome Sir Lancelot riding by, and the spell is broken; her corpse eventually floats down the same river that serves as the backdrop of the story. Tennyson uses many elements of figurative language throughout his poem.


Symbols are objects in a piece of writing that represent something beyond themselves; they have both a literal and figurative meaning. The river is an important symbol. The flowing of the river represents the flowing of the life of the Lady of Shalott, and it is even a part of her death. Another symbol, the island she lives on, represents her isolation and loneliness apart from the world.


An allusion is a reference to a historical person, place or event that an author uses to deepen meaning in a piece of writing. Tennyson references Camelot several times in his poem. Camelot is a fictional place in the time of King Arthur, and it symbolizes romance and love. The audience understands so much depth through the use of that one word. Another allusion, the use of Sir Lancelot, a heroic and romantic figure, helps the audience understand the allure of turning from her work to look at a handsome man directly.


Authors use personification to link objects to human actions and emotions. Personification is giving human qualities or characteristics to objects. Tennyson writes, "Willows whiten, aspens quiver, / Little breezes dusk and shiver." Aspen trees don't quiver, and breezes certainly can't shiver. These are human qualities. He uses another example of personification when he writes, "The broad stream in his banks complaining." Only people complain; Tennyson is using this poetic device to explain how loud the broad stream was.


Anytime an author creates words that appeal to the senses -- things the reader sees, tastes, touches, hears or smells -- the writer is using imagery. Tennyson delights in imagery. Tennyson writes, ”There she weaves by night and day / A magic web with colours gay. / She has heard a whisper say, / A curse is on her if she stay.” In this part of the poem, Tennyson utilizes visual imagery in the description of the colorful web and auditory imagery with the whispering of curses.

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