This is the first big image in the poem, and it comes up again and again after the first line. It's almost like the backbone of the poem, running through it and holding it up. Do you feel how the river sort of pulls the plot along? That's especially true toward the end, as the Lady begins her final journey. The movement of the river, its flow and its strength, is so key to this poem that it's not surprising that Tennyson leads out with this image.
- Line 1: The river is the first image, and so, in a way, everything is put in relation to the river. Camelot is down the river, the island is in the middle of the river, the fields are on either side of the river. Beginning, middle, and end, we keep coming back to the river.
- Line 13: In the line before this, the speaker has told us about the "wave that runs forever" down the river. We think this idea of an endless wave, a current that can't be stopped, is really key. The river is mostly peaceful and pretty, but there's something almost scary about this eternal wave. Finally, it's going to pull the Lady to her death.
- Line 120: As the situation with the Lady gets more serious, the river seems to pick up on her distress. In this line, we are told that the river is complaining. When you give human feelings to a non-human thing like a river, that's called personification. In this case it helps to emphasize the Lady's fate, which is apparently so tragic it can even make a river sad.