How Does Keats Tell the Story of La Belle Dame Sans Merci Essay Example
How Does Keats Tell the Story of La Belle Dame Sans Merci Essay Example

How Does Keats Tell the Story of La Belle Dame Sans Merci Essay Example

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Keats uses many methods to tell the story in his poem ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci. The story is first hinted at in the title, which translates as ‘The beautiful woman without mercy. For those who know of Keats’ background, it is easy to associate this poem with his instinctive distrust of women. Keats’ mother abandoned him in 1806, and these feelings of neglect influenced his poetry heavily, as he writes of women trapping men for their gains rather than out of love. This is also visible in this poem, such as when Keats refers to a ‘garland’ and ‘bracelets’, both of which are circular.

Because of this, and that they are therefore unbreaking and of a similar shape to handcuffs, they could be a metaphor for entrapment, as well as the Belle Dame’s t


reatment of men, which is a constant cycle. This metaphor is portrayed more clearly in stanza 10; ‘They cried- La Belle Dame sans Merci Thee hath in thrall! ’. Keats portrays women as cunning creatures who toy with men and use them. The title also links the poem to Alain Chartier’s poem and relates to troubadours-men who used to court married women who were unattainable, much like the Belle Dame described in Keats’ poem.

Both of these things link ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci to the medieval era, and this is continued throughout the poem, as Keats uses a lot of archaic language, such as ‘faery’ ‘thee’ and ‘hath’, suggesting that the poem itself is set in medieval times. This specific period was of great interest to romantic poets, such as Keats. There are subtle references t

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the season in the poem, which would support the theory that stanzas three to eleven are a dream, and the rest are a reality, as in reality, the description suggests it is winter; ‘The squirrel’s granary is full, And the harvest’s done. and winter is associated with cold, unhappiness, and possibly loneliness.

In the dream, the language indicates that it is spring; ‘fading rose’, ‘honey wild’. Spring brings to mind images of warmth, happiness, and general togetherness. The season is used as a metaphor for the knight-at-arms emotions and his feelings for the Belle Dame; in reality, he is alone and miserable, but in the dream stanzas he is carefree and there is an enchanted, magical sense to the poem. The narrator of the first two stanzas is an anonymous character, who describes the knight-at-arms and sets the scene.

It is also possible that it is the knight himself, questioning his actions and emotions; ‘O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? ’ The first line is also repeated, reiterating the questioning attitude, and giving the impression of quiet desperation and confusion. Keats uses these stanzas to show the effect the Belle Dame has had on the knight, and by using what we can assume to be a separate narrator, it becomes clear to the reader that the knight’s misery is visible to those around him, as well as hearing of the knight’s unhappiness in a first-person format in the final stanza.

Keats uses the different narrators to give the reader both perspectives, which leads to a better emotional understanding of the poem. It is hinted at in the poem

that the knight himself is ill, which could be in a literal sense; possible mental illness or he could be ill in the heartbroken sense. He is described as ‘pale’ and ‘haggard’, which are similar terms used to describe the men whom the Belle Dame has already cycled through. They are ‘death-pale’, with ‘starved lips’ as they warn him of the danger he is in with the Belle Dame.

This could be connected with Keats’ psychological issue with women, in which case the ‘pale kings and princes’ would be Keats’ mental warning against women in general, a metaphor for his mental health in regards to his view of women. The language when describing the after-effects of the Belle Dame becomes disturbing-‘starved’ ‘death-pale’, ‘horrid’, ‘gaped wide’. This is intended to unsettle the reader, much as it does the knight-at-arms. In contrast, the language in the dream stanzas creates a sense of calm.

The scenes described are all idyllic and ethereal, similar to the Belle Dame. The whole dream sequence shows the love that the knight felt for the Belle dame, as does the ballad form of the poem. The Belle Dame has the qualities of a magical creature, she is described as a ‘wild’ and a ‘faery’ who speaks ‘in language strange’. This implies to the reader that she has a temporary quality, as though she may disappear at any moment, which is a hint at what is to come.

Towards the end of the poem, the metric rhythm of the previous stanzas breaks down, similar to how the knight’s confidence, health, and trust have been broken. The final stanza has a frustrated

yet resigned quality, and has remained in the first person; ‘And this is why I sojourn here Alone and palely loitering. So despite the return to a severe, more wintery climate, it remains that the knight is telling the story, suggesting a harsh snap back to reality.

The last two lines of stanza eleven support this; ‘And I awoke and found me here On the cold hill’s side. ’. Keats uses many different techniques, such as the characteristics, the language, the setting, and the period to successfully tell the story and to add to the impact that the story has on the readers. For these reasons, ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ is enjoyable as it is possible to relate to the emotions of the kight-at-arms, and also enjoy the story itself.

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