Lady Clare and the White Deer

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.

And so begins the ballad poem “Lady Clare,” written in 1842 by famous English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Lady Clare is a wealthy young heiress and Lord Ronald is her betrothed. The white doe represents the purity of the love they have for each other.

Love is tested, though, when the noble maid, a day before her wedding, discovers she is not the person she is supposed to be. Lady Clare’s nurse reveals that she is actually her mother and that Clare was switched as a baby when the real Lady Clare died. Determined to be honest about her true identity, Lady Clare goes to tell Lord Ronald…

She clad herself in a russet 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,
Dropt her head in the maiden’s hand,
And followed her all the way.

It is significant that the white deer accompanies Lady Clare.  It is a symbol of both the couple’s love and of Clare’s pure and honest character. Even though Clare is really lower born, and estates and titles are at stake, she has to tell the truth. But in the end, her secret doesn’t matter. Lord Ronald replies…

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.

Note:  To read the complete poem, click here.