Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Little breezes dusk and shiver
- The speaker mentions little breezes that blow around the island too, and says that they "dusk and shiver." It's a little hard to say exactly what those words mean in this context, since we usually don't talk about something "dusking."
- All the same, can you feel the atmosphere this creates? Even if the words don't add up right away, can you feel the little chill of darkness and mystery they send through the line? That's what they're there for.
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
- Those breezes run along with the river, which flows constantly past the island in an endless wave.
- Here the speaker is really underlining the flow of the river as it heads toward Camelot. That flow, that "wave that runs for ever" (line 12) will be really important later on, so he's careful to plant the idea in our heads now.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
- Now we hear about a building on the island, a simple structure, just four walls with four towers. We imagine a mini-castle, a way smaller version of the many-towered Camelot we heard about in line 5.
- It's apparently surrounded by flowers too. Weaving the natural and the manmade together is a big deal in this poem.
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.
- Finally, we meet the star of this little show, the Lady herself. The only thing we learn right away is that the silent island of Shalott "imbowers" her. This might be an unfamiliar word, but it's really important for this poem. It means to enclose, to shut up in a bower, which was the private room of a medieval lady. Right off the bat, we can feel how the lady is restricted, shut up, even imprisoned on this island.
By the margin, willow-veiled,
Slide the heavy barges trailed
By slow horses; and unhailed
The shallop flitteth silken-sailed
Skimming down to Camelot:
- Now we head back outside.
- The speaker is almost teasing us, giving us yet more descriptions of the banks of the river with its willow trees (fascinating, huh?).
- We also hear more about the traffic on the river. Horses pull big heavy barges upstream, and shallops (little open boats for shallow waters) fly ("flitteth") down the river to Camelot, pushed by their silky sails.