The Lady of Shallot is a magical being who lives alone on an island upstream from King Arthur’s Camelot. Her business is to look at the world outside her castle window in a mirror, and to weave what she sees into a tapestry. She is forbidden by the magic to look at the outside world directly. The farmers who live near her island hear her singing and know who she is, but never see her.
The Lady sees ordinary people, loving couples, and knights in pairs reflected in her mirror. One day, she sees the reflection of Sir Lancelot riding alone. Although she knows that it is forbidden, she looks out the window at him. The mirror shatters, the tapestry flies off on the wind, and the Lady feels the power of her curse.
An autumn storm suddenly arises. The lady leaves her castle, finds a boat, writes her name on it, gets into the boat, sets it adrift, and sings her death song as she drifts down the river to Camelot. The locals find the boat and the body, realize who she is, and are saddened. Lancelot prays that God will have mercy on her soul.
This is one of Tennyson’s most popular poems. The Pre-Raphaelites liked to illustrate it. Waterhouse made three separate paintings of “The Lady of Shalott”. Agatha Christie wrote a Miss Marple mystery entitled “The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side“, which was made into a movie starring Angela Lansbury.