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La Belle Dame Sans Merci

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Essay title: La Belle Dame Sans Merci

La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a poem written in 1819 by John Keats, one of the most talented amongst the famous English poets. John Keats, born into a rather poor family, is mostly known to be a romantic poem, who let in his poems a greater part to imagination, dream and feelings (three items who are often linked) than to reality, reason or common sense. In this precise poem, one can see that, as a matter of fact, supernatural, dreams, and a kind of outer world (different from the one we know) are extremely present. Keats took the title and the general plot of his poem to the French medieval author, Alain Chartier.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a really catchy poem and its verses are really and amazingly easy to remember, this is surely due to its nature. Indeed John Keats is here imitating the popular ballad, he uses rather simple words and sentences without obvious underlying meanings. It is composed of twelve stanzas. The first three verses of each stanza have generally four feet and eight or nine syllables, yet, the last line of each has only four or five syllables. It strikes the ear when we read it and this arouses our attention. This poem is also extremely rich in musical qualities such as rhythm , repetitions and melodious association of sonorities. For example the last stanza recalls the first one and gives to the whole poem a certain rhythm and it gives the feeling that a cycle has been achieved, a buckle has been closed.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci is at first sight a poem dealing with love, fairies, death, forlorn knight and despondency. Indeed, in this poem, John Keats tells us, in a wonderful and very delicate way, the story of a “knight in arms” (this is how the wretched wight is described in the first edition of this poem) that an anonymous speaker meet in the meads and with whom this speaker will have a conversation, during which the knight will answer to the puzzlement of the anonymous speaker. This anonymous speaker gives no information about himself (or herself ? whether it is a woman or a man can equally be argued) , we only know that he is amazed by the presence of this wretched wight, loitering, seeming lost (“haggard”) and sorrowful (“and so woe-begone”) in a desolate place (“the sedge is withered from the lake, no birds sing”) whereas all the conditions are combined for one to be happy and serene, the harvest being done and the granary full. The anonymous speaker (we can assume that he is the narrator) seems really amazed indeed but also seems to pity the man who is woe-begone, to suffer for him (the presence of the two “ah” tends to show that he really sympathizes with his sorrow).

Therefore, he seems to care about him and wants to know the reasons of such a sorrow, and questions him about them (“ah, what can ail thee wretched wight ?” l.5) .

Then, the whole poem will be dedicated to explaining what ails the poor and forlorn man. This explanation will be directly given by the knight from the fourth stanza to the last one.

The man, delineated by the anonymous speaker as haggard, feverish (“with anguish moist and fever dew”) and having a fading and withered rose on his cheek, will explain what happened to him very steadily, without cries nor moans or shrill complaints.

There are several ways of understanding the presence of a rose “fast withered” on his cheek. The first one is that the knight is in fact dying and that this rose symbolizes the life, still rose, but quickly withering. The second one is that this rose is in fact a poetic way to express the real colour of his cheek, who would then be rose but beginning to fade, due to his sorrow. And the last one is that this rose is a metaphor of his love for the fairy, a wonderful love, which has once been rose and real, but which is now withered and lost. In any case the presence of the rose, symbol of beauty and purity, withered is a strong symbol and already conveys a gloomy and lugubrious feeling.

On the whole the three first stanzas are dedicated to settle the landscape and atmosphere and, as a matter of fact, they really fulfil this purpose since, straight from the reading of those, we already are in a certain state of mind, already caught by the poem and feeling a strange sadness.

Then the man, the desperate and woe-begone lover, the haggard, lonely and pale knight will tell his story and explains what made of him a “wretched wight”. His story is basically a story mixing love, supernatural, romance, nature but also betrayal, death, sorrow and mournfulness.

As the knight explains, he was once in the meads when he met a beautiful fairy who kind of mesmerised him. He took her with him, on her “pacing steed” and gazed at her all day. The exchanged presents, he gave him a garland, bracelets and zone whereas she gave him roots of relish sweet, honey wild and manna dew. The knight then lived a dream, he emphasizes the

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