Write down the critical appreciation of the poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"



If you're studying the poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci well lucky you it's a fantastic story it's got some really interesting ideas and it deployed by Keats and there are some great language devices to get your teeth into as well so. Let's start at the beginning La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a ballad and ballads are narrative poems which means they tell a story and the story which Keats creates is in the form of a medieval romance we have night, Kings, princes, mythical, mystical enchantress, and magic. All tied into one poem which can perhaps best be summed up as being somatically concerned with the destructive power of love. The poem uses two separate narrative voices the first is an unknown speaker who has discovered a knight wandering aimlessly about an autumnal landscape and questions him about his condition this happens in the first three stanzas of the poem. The second voice that we hear is the Knights reply and this takes up the remainder of the rest of the poem as he narrates how he came to be in this near-death state. So let's have a look at the first three stanzas:

"O what can ail thee knight-at-arms,
     Alone and Paley loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
     And no birds sing. 
O what can ail thee knight-at-arms!
     so Haggard and so woebegone?
The squirrels granary is full,
     and the harvests done.

I see a lily on thy brow
     With anguish moist and fevere dew,
And on my cheeks a fading rose 
     fast withereth too."

belle dame sans merci critical appreciation


 So what have we got in this first section of the poem well we have a knight and he is a knight who appears ready for battle he is a knight at arms and yet curiously. When he is discovered he appears to be close to death he is pale and he is Haggard and he is Wobegon. In the third stanza, of the poem, Keats uses a couple of metaphors to further illustrate the knight's condition he's described as having a lily on thy brow and lilies are usually found as white which links to that pale and ghostly sense of the night's condition. We also have another flower metaphor being used a fading rose and of course roses traditionally red and so again we have that sense of the blood draining from the face of the Knight now this sense of the life leaving the Knight is mirrored in the landscape it's a clever structural device that Keats uses. We see in the first three stanzas that the sedge has withered from the lake the birds have flown south and the squirrel is preparing for winter and all of these images or metaphors combine to give us a sense that life is not only being drained away from the knight but it's also being drained out of nature as well. The question which the speaker asks twice in this part of the poem is Oh what can ail thee in other words what is wrong with you and it is the answer to this question which makes up the rest of the poem. The first thing that the Knight tells us is that he met a lady he describes her as being very beautiful but there are also early clues in the poem that there is something unearthly about her she's described as a fairies child and she has wild eyes the knight then goes on to explain how he made a Garland for her head and "Bracelets too". Now both of these are circular objects in the same form as a wedding ring and this has led some people to interpret this part of the narrative as the knight striving for some sort of control or power over this lady. He wants to own her as his own possession and this can be supported by glancing at the first word of the first three stanzas of the Knights story look I-I-I it's all about him and what he did one of these actions is to place the girl on his horse and it's here that we see the first suggestion of an enchantment taking place. He recalls how she sang to him a fairy song and how he looked at nothing else all day as if he were under some sort of spell or enchantment. The next three stanzas of the poem describe how the night was given heavenly food that we've got "roots of relish sweet" "wild honey" and "mana dew" food from heaven. He is then spoken to in this strange language and eventually he is lulled to sleep but look now at how the power has shifted from earlier in the poem look we've now got She, She and there She and this all is a record of a knight who is now a passive recipient of the girls actions she speaks she weeps she sighs but we are led to believe that this is all part of the enchantment which will ultimately destroy him.

It's after the night is lulled to sleep and he experiences this dream or nightmare the perhaps the deeper meaning behind the poem is developed:

"I saw pale kings and princes too, Pale
           Warrior's death-pale were they all; 
They cried- "La Belle Dame Sans Merci 
            Thee hath in thrall!"

 I saw their staff had lips in the Gloam
             With horrid warning gaping wide
And I woke and found myself here 
               On the cold hillside."

Now, here we learned that the knight was far from being the first person to suffer this fate he sees men of power in this nightmare Kings princes warriors all of whom have fallen under the same serious spell and they call out to him in pitiful warning but it is already too late the nightmare reaches. Its peak as the night almost becomes enveloped horrid warning gaping wide the wasted lips and gaping mouths of the other victims who call out to him and then suddenly he's awake the lady's gone and the night is as wasted and close to death as those whom he dreamt about the poem has a cyclical structure which means it's sort of ends where it begins with the night alone pale and wandering aimlessly in a barren lifeless landscape that he appears unable to escape from.

Suggested Question:



  1. Discuss "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" as a ballad.
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