Lady Clare

Poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Summary and Critical analysis

In spring lilies grow, and there are clouds in the sky. At that time Lord Ronald brought a lily-white doe to give it to his cousin, Lady Clare. They had promised to marry each other for a long time and they were going to marry the following morning. Lady Clare was sure that Lord Ronald loved her for her own real value, not for her family origin and for her land.

When Ronald went out, Alice, her nurse, asked her who he was, and then she replied that he was her cousin and that they were going to marry the following morning. The nurse thanked God because he was going to be the heir of Clare’s property. But Alice told her a secret that she was not the Lady Calare. She insisted that it was the truth and that she was not mad as Clare has supposed her to be so.Then the nurse told her a story. She would take care of the old Earl’s daughter. But when the Earl’s daughter died, Alice buried her as her own daughter and put her child in her place. So Clare was Alice’s daughter.

Clare was unhappy with her mother because she had done so unfaithfully. Clare was also sorry because she had deceived Ronald for so many years. But the mother told her to keep it secret all her life. Clare did not like to tell a lie. She planned to go to him and tell him everything. She pulled off the gold ornament and threw the diamond necklace. Alice repeatedly asked her not to tell the secret. But Clare added that she would know if there was any faith in the man. When her mother kissed her and said that she had sinned for her. Clare found it so strange. She kissed her mother and asked her to bless her by laying her hand on her head before she went.

Then she dressed like an ordinary girl and did not look like a lady. She had only a single rose in her hair. The lily-white doe that Ronald had given her also followed her. They passed by valley and by hill. When they reached Ronald’s tower, he came down and asked why she had disgraced her value by dressing like a village girl. Then she replied that she was born in the poor family and that it was her fate. Ronald did not understand her puzzle and asked her not to play him any tricks. Then she boldly looked into his eyes and told him the nurse’s tale. When he heard all this, he laughed happily and scornfully. He turned and kissed her. Then he said that they would marry the following morning even if she were not an heiress and his cousin.

‘Lady Clare’ is a narrative poem that tells of how lovers can rise above social and economic status and are able to remain faithful to each other. Ronald and Clare loved each other, and were about to marry. Clare was sure that he loved her, not her birth or property. Then Alice, the nurse, told her that she was not a lady, but her own daughter. After the old Earl’s daughter died, she buried her and put her daughter in her place. She asked Clare not to tell it to Ronald. But Clare went to Ronald wearing like a village girl. After Ronald heard the story, he declared that he would marry her even if she was not his cousin and she might be poor.

It is a ballad and it has twenty-two stanzas. In nine stanzas the first line rhymes with the third line and the second line with the fourth line. In the remaining stanzas the poet uses the ballad stanza rhyming abcb. This comic ballad unfolds mostly through dialoguer and action. We find refrain and repetition here. It begins suddenly with Ronald’s gift to Clare. The phrase ‘lily-white’ means ‘pure-white’. A person of lily-white character is described as a person of very pure and honest character. The gift suggests that both the lover and the beloved are pure and honest to each other. The language is simple. Like most ballads, it does not use a tragic theme. The episode is single. Events lead quickly to crisis. Setting is minimized and dramatic element is strong.


It was the time when lilies blow,
And clouds are highest up in air.
Lord Ronald brought a lily-white doe
To give his cousin, Lady Clare.

I trow they did not part in scorn:
Lovers long betrothed were they;
They two will wed the morrow morn;
God’s blessing on the day!

“He does not love me for my birth
Nor for my lands so broad and fair;
He loves me for my own true worth,
And that is well,” said Lady Clare.

In there came old Alice the nurse,
Said, “Who was this that went from thee?”
“It was my cousin,” said Lady Clare;
“To-morrow he weds with me.”

“Oh, God be thanked!” said Alice the nurse,
“That all comes round so just and fair:
Lord Ronald is heir of all your lands,
And you are not the Lady Clare.”

“Are ye out of your mind, my nurse, my nurse,”
Said Lady Clare, “that ye speak so wild?”
“As God’s above,” said Alice the nurse,
“I speak the truth: you are my child.

The old earl’s daughter died at my breast;
I speak the truth, as I live by bread!
I buried her like my own sweet child,
And put my child in her stead.”

“Falsely, falsely have ye done,
O mother,” she said, “if this be true,
To keep the best man under the sun
So many years from his due.”

“Nay now, my child,” said Alice the nurse,
“But keep the secret for your life,
And all you have will be Lord Ronald’s,
When you are man and wife.”

“If I’m a beggar born,” she said
“I will speak out, for I dare not lie,
Pull off, pull off the brooch of gold,
And fling the diamond necklace by.”

“Nay now, my child,” said Alice the nurse,
“But keep the secret all you can.”
She said, “Not so; but I will know
If there be any faith in man.”

“Nay now, what faith?” said Alice the nurse,
“The man will cleave unto his right.”
“And he shall have it,” the lady replied,
“Though I should die to-night.”

“Yet give one kiss to your mother, dear!
Alas, my child! I sinned for thee.”
“O mother, mother, mother,” she said,
“So strange it seems to me!

“Yet here’s a kiss for my mother dear,
My mother dear, if this be so,
And lay your hand upon my head,
And bless me, mother, ere I go.”

She clad herself in a russen gown,
She was no longer Lady Clare:
She went by dale, and she went by down,
With a single rose in her hair.

The lily-white doe Lord Ronald had brought
Leapt up from where she lay.
Dropped her head in the maiden’s hand.
And followed her all the way.

Down stepped Lord Ronald from his tower:
“O Lady Clare, you shame your worth!
Why come you dressed like a village maid,
That are the flower of the earth?”

“If I come dressed like a village maid,
I am but as my fortunes are:
I am a begger born,” she said,
“And not the Lady Clare.”

“Play me no tricks,” said Lord Ronald,
“For I am yours in word and in deed;
Play me no tricks,” said Lord Ronald,
“Your riddle is hard to read.”

Oh, and proudly stood she up!
Her heart within her did not fail:
She looked into Lord Ronald’s eyes,
And told him all her nurse’s tale.

He laughed a laugh of merry scorn:
He turned and kissed her where she stood;
“If you are not the heiress born,
And I,” said he, “the next in blood–

“If you are not the heiress born,
And I,” said he, “the lawful heir,
We two will wed to-morrow morn,
And you shall still be Lady Clare.”

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