I honestly don't remember how I learned about Loreena McKennett, I'm just thrilled that I did!

Celtic music is her thing, but this amazing Canadian songstress also has an incredible talent for turning classic poetry into glorious song! I may not recall when or how I discovered Ms. McKennett, but I do remember that it was this song that introduced me to her music.

What moves me this week is Loreena McKennett's version of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, The Lady of Shalott. If you enjoy the Arthurian legends, both the poem and the song should move you, too. Or, if you're familiar with the story of Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, another Canadian, then you will remember that Anne loved the poem so much she re-enacted it with her friends. Of course Anne took the role of the Lady of Shalott for herself; she really loved the drama of the death scene.

Tennyson never gives the Lady a name, so much about her remains a mystery. She is imprisoned in a tower on an island called Shalott in an unnamed river somewhere near Camelot. Because a curse has been placed on her, she cannot look directly at Camelot or some unknown disaster will befall her. In her isolation and loneliness, she spends her time watching the people of Camelot through a mirror and weaving what she sees into a magic web. Although she is tempted to look directly down on Camelot, she remains in the shadows, isolated from life, living it only through the reflections she sees in the mirror. That is, until the day she hears a knight singing as he rides past the tower. Captivated by his song, the Lady of Shalott finally realizes that her "life" in the shadows and reflections of the mirror is no life at all. Without a care for the curse, she looks down on the handsome knight with black curls as he rides past. The mirror cracks, and the curse comes true. The Lady leaves the tower, finds a boat on the lake and writes her name on it. Chanting a song, she climbs into the boat and floats down the river both to Camelot and her death. When the boat reaches the shore, a group of knights and ladies, one of whom is Lancelot, find the dead maiden. Lancelot says, ""She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott."

Even if you don't know the story of the Lady who became "half-sick of shadows" and sacrificed her life for a single moment of living, this song is a great way to introduce yourself to both the stories of the Knights of the Round Table and some fantastic Victorian poetry.

Poem / Lyrics

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly;
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

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
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armor rung
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, burning bright,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And around about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance --
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right --
The leaves upon her falling light --
Thro' the noises of the night,
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And around the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

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11 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Very interesting and a good informational post. This is relaxing music. Thanks for sharing this :)

  2. Marites Says:

    Interesting and very informative. I like her song and it had me imagining vast spaces and rolling mountains. my MM is up too.

  3. Says:

    She is quite magical. :O)

  4. Amy Says:

    How amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Diane Says:

    i actually know Loreena! i met her in atlanta. she's beautiful. and my daughter likes to fall asleep to her music when she's having a hard time settling in.

    great choice!!

    p.s. did you know she is on the Tinkerbell Movie soundtrack?

  6. Carleen Says:

    Diane, I'm so glad that someone else knows Loreena and her music besides me! :) And to really know her -- that's even better.

    I haven't seen the Tinkerbell movie, but now I will, LOL!

  7. Mizohican Says:

    There is a genre I listen to which is quite similar to this. It is known as Celtic Metal. Its a fusion of this music and metal, and its pretty awesome. Thanx for dropping by :-)

  8. jori-o Says:

    Before you even mentioned it, I was thinking of Anne of Green Gables---I LOVE those books! Great post!

  9. My all time favorite song that Loreena sings is "Come By The Hills"

    I'll try to find it and post it.

    Wonderful post.

  10. Nessa Says:

    beautiful music.

    I loved Anne of Green Gables. I watched it over and over again.

    The poem is a favorite too and the pictures are lovely with it.

  11. Valerie Says:

    Never heard of her. I loved her and the song! Just Beautiful!

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