The Lady of Shalott lives in an island castle in a river which flows to Camelot, but little is known about her by the local farmers. She suffers from a mysterious curse, and must continually weave images on her loom without ever looking directly out at the world. Instead, she looks into a mirror which reflects the busy road and the people of Camelot which pass by her island.
The reflected images are described as "shadows of the world", a metaphor that makes clear that they are a poor substitute for seeing directly ("I am half-sick of shadows".) Lancelot rides by and is seen by the lady. She stops weaving and looks out of her window toward Camelot, bringing about the curse. She leaves her tower, finds a boat upon which she writes her name, and floats down the river to Camelot. She dies before arriving at the palace. Among the knights and ladies who see her is Lancelot, who thinks she is lovely.