La Belle Dame Sans Merci essay

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John Keats`s poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” written in 1819, tells a story of a lonesome knight, cling onto his sadness because of a fairy lady that has seduced him and abandoned on a “cold hill side” (44). The poem is written in a romantic style and praises courtly love, while insinuates on women`s flippancy. The poesy impressed me with its content, plenteousness of literary elements, form and language. The content of the poem made me pay attention to Keats’s female image represented by the “faery`s child” (14). The literary elements made me focus on the symbolism of the poem and its language along with its form made me feel the melodiousness of the ballad-like poem.

Keats`s “La Dame Sans Merci” inspired me with its female character, who plays a quite ambiguous role in the “knight-at arms” life (Mervyn 107). The strange love affair between two different (human and elfin) worlds turns out to be impossible and draws the chevalier to certain death.

Next presumable versions of the woman`s personality dragged my attention to the poem`s subject of femininity. The lady`s shadowy character may be a dream, a captivating illusion, which the knight cannot bear (Mervyn 106). The elfin woman may represent one of the ancient literary themes – a light-o-love woman, who sweeps men off her feet in order to revel in their passion. The author describes the fairy maiden as “beautiful”, with “long hair”, “light foot” and “wild” eyes (14-16). I believe that such unearthly woman would certainly seduce any man. Moreover, the lady “looked as she did love” and “made sweet moan”, which means that she exhibited her feelings, whereas, throughout the poem the knight did not (19-20). The next thing that invited my attention was the fact that the maiden sang “a faery`s song” (24) and spoke in a “strange language” (27). Moreover, the lady treated the knight with heavenly food – “manna dew” (26). It seems to me that the knight did not pay attention to the ‘wildness’ of her eyes and the “wild honey” she brought to him (26). These facts should have put the knight`s senses on alert, instead of this, he chose the world of imagination, which lead him to death (Mervyn 108). The ghosts’ “starved lips” symbolize their desiderium for the ‘ideal’ they have once tasted. It is obvious that the young lovers did not understand each other (because of their different nature) and so was with all the elfin`s previous passions. This woman appears to be not more than an illusion that allured the poor men`s hearts.  

The story left me with a suspicion of dissatisfaction and uneasiness. A sensation of trouble pierced my thoughts when I got to know of the beautiful maiden`s strange wildness. The knight failed to see the real nature of the seductress. I felt that their love affair was wrong from the very beginning. Also, I suspect that the woman in the poem can symbolize death, and the knight is the author himself, because Keats wrote this poem in the period when he was dying from tuberculosis (Bloom 102).

The poem also attracted me with its literary elements. My attention was invited by the variety of flower imagery in it and the nature with its seasons of the year that reflect the succession of the knight`s changing situation.

I observed that most of the inner feelings of the main characters are enclosed in the symbolic ‘flower framing’. As, for example, in the ninth line, a lily on the knight`s brow symbolizes death that weights upon his existence (“I see a lily on thy brow”). In this case the poet employs a metaphor. In the eleventh line another metaphor is used – “And on thy cheeks a fading rose fast withereth too”. Here, the author implies on the end of a romance, hence a rose is a symbol of passion or love in Western culture. Moreover a rose, fading from one`s cheeks means absence of his healthy cheek glow, and signifies health concerns and increasing paleness (Bloom 103). Also, flowers connote life and love in lines 17-18, where the knight makes beautiful garlands and bracelets for his dame – “I made a garland for her head, / And bracelets too”. That means that the knight loves the lady, or, at least, feels drawn to her. A flower belt (“fragrant zone”) is a euphemism for the lady`s anatomical place underneath her belt.  

At the beginning of the story the knight says that the sedge has withered, which is associated with autumn, this means that unavoidable death is on the watch of the knight (3). The absence of the birds also insinuates on the desolation around the knight, as well as his personal forlornness (4). In the eighth line I could notice that the author applies a metaphor and matches the solitude of the knight and emptiness of the harvested crops in the fields.

I was impressed by the closeness to nature of the characters of the poem. Every single naturalistic element implies a double significance, which caught my interest. The natural setting was a great inspiration of the romantics; they considered that human imaginative thinking can unite man with nature, which can create an intense emotional response. So did I when I noticed the symbolism of nature in the “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. The imagery brought me far away from my native land, in the England`s green meadows with ‘dramatic’ flowers and autumn-colored woods. Everything in the poem seems spiritualized to me.

The form and language of the Keats`s poem has also attracted my attention. Its melodiousness became obvious when I noticed the similarity between this poem and a ballad. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is an old-fashioned poem that tells a story in a folky style. Its language is simple, because original ballads were communicated orally and such language would appeal to commonalty (Bloom 102). The poem sounds like a song, like most ballads. The first and the last stanzas create are the cornerstone of the poem`s beat and its alliterations and rhyme scheme increase the feeling of its underlying harmony (Bloom 104). The poem is divided into twelve stanzas (quatrains) that contain four lines each. The principal meter of each stanza is iambic tetrameter. This means that it has stressed syllables which come after the unstressed ones, consequently, four iambs per line as in the first line we can see “O what can ail thee, knight at arms”.

All in all, I found the poem fabulous. Keats`s female character made me shiver from her ‘wildness’ and mysteriousness and his vivid imagery thrilled me, because it catched the spirit of the characters` frame of mind. The tone of the poem is somber and gloomy from the start, so it affected my intuition and suggested my feeling that something ominous is to take place. The poesy sound like a melodic song, and its rhythmical recurrence made me ‘flow’ into the fairish tale. The story, told by the knight appeared to be rather morbid and desperate, so I suspect that the poet was rather preoccupied about something that took place in his own life. Death and betrayed love are the main themes of the poem, and I felt that the tension conveyed by the poem relates to the imminence of the human`s life end (Mervyn 106). 

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