Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
- If the Lady of Shalott never comes to the window, and no one ever sees her, what is the lady doing with her free time? She's weaving a "magic web" all day and all night. The speaker doesn't tell us right away what this web is, just that it's brightly colored.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
- Why does she weave all the time without stopping? She's heard a rumor ("a whisper") that she'll be cursed if she should stop working ("stay" is an old way of saying stop or pause) and look down the river at Camelot.
- Think of the Lady like Sleeping Beauty in the Disney cartoon – a beautiful maiden, trapped in a tower under a terrible curse.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.
- The twist in this poem is that no one told the Lady of Shalott exactly what the curse involves. To be on the safe side, she just keeps weaving all the time, with nothing else ("little other care") to worry her or occupy her time – in other words, a pretty boring life.
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:
- The web she's weaving isn't the only magical prop in this poem. There's also a magic mirror, which shows "shadows of the world."
- That's an important phrase, and a little mysterious. She's not seeing the real thing, just images, and the use of the word "shadows" makes us think they might be fuzzy, dark, faint images. Still, this mirror gives her a way to watch the highway, even though she can't really look outside.