Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;
- Tennyson starts out this poem with a quiet description of a landscape. A river runs through fields of grain. The barley and the wheat cover ("clothe") the "wold" (an old word for an open, unforested piece of land). Through this field, there's a road running toward the castle of Camelot, which is the legendary home of King Arthur and his knights.
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.
- Apparently this road is pretty well traveled. The people who use the road can look down and see an island in the middle of the river. This island, which the speaker says is surrounded by lilies, is called the island of Shalott.
- FYI, that's pronounced with the accent on the second syllable (sha-LOTT). To hear it out loud, check out one of the audio recordings of the poem in the "Best of the Web" section
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
- The poem holds off on the plot details for a second here, and tells us a little more about the natural world around the island.
- We hear about the willow trees that grow on the river banks, and the aspen trees that "quiver" (when the wind blows though the branches of an aspen tree, the leaves shake or "quiver").