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La Belle Dame Sans Merci
- John Keats

Summary:
  • The title of the poem means “the beautiful woman without mercy” which creates a negative image. She is the archetypal femme fatale; she is a woman who uses her beauty to charm men and lead them into dangerous situations.

  • The poem is quite ambiguous.

  • The poem narrates a tragic story of a knight who falls in love with a lady, but she leaves him as she falls ill. A stranger meets the knight and inquires about his miserable condition. The knight tells him about the beautiful woman in the meadows.

  • They have been in love as she walked alongside him and sang beautiful songs for him. Once she took him to her special place where he kissed her and the calmness around him made him sleep. He then dreamed about strange people warning about that fair lady.

Themes:
  • Unreciprocated love

  • Impossible love

  • Illness

  • Control

  • Loss

  • Power of love

  • Danger of love

Structure:
  • The poem consists of quatrains with a consistent ABCB rhyme scheme.

  • Parisian poetry

  • The end-line rhymes give the poem a melodic rhythm

  • Cyclical structure- both first and last stanza occur at the same time (in the present)- dialogue

Form:
  • Ballad: the folk ballad, which usually tells the basic story of love or pain, it is known for its simple language and minimal details.

  • Written at a time where people couldn’t read. Written this way as it is easier to listen/ memorise.

Imagery:
  • ‘Full beautiful- a faery’s child...’- stereotypical images of a fairy. The dash also emphasises this

  • ‘Starved lips’- image of suffering.

Effect on the reader:
  • The poem has a haunting and often ominous effect on the reader. This effect is partially created through the use of frequent repetitions such as a reciprocated structure and the circular effect of almost exactly replicating the second to fourth lines of verses 1 and 12

  • The poem takes the reader into a supernatural world with its mysterious narrative and ethereal atmosphere which combines innocence and seduction in an unusual ballad.

Language:
  • ‘Alone’ and ‘Palely loitering’- gives a lexical field of isolation. ‘Palely’ suggests that he is unwell. The fact that he is ‘loitering’ gives a sense of purposeness which is unlike that of a regular knight who is full of purpose. ● ‘The sedge has wither’d from the lake, and no birds sing’- pathetic fallacy here gives a bleak image of winter and mirrors the knight’s state.

  • ‘O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms!’- repetition which suggests that he must be in an awful state for this unknown person to ask again

  • "Haggared and so woe-begone?"- contrast with stereotypical expectations of knight.

  • ‘The squirrel’s granary is full, and the harvest’s done’- optimistic tone. The image of winter here suggests that he feels death is near. It may also connote his feelings.

  • ‘I see a lily on thy brow’- metaphor. ‘Anguish moist’ and ‘fever dew’- suggests that he may be dying. ● ‘Fading rose’- suggests death. It may also suggest that he wasn’t always this way; he was full of passion. ● ‘Withereth’- dying

  • ‘I’- personal pronoun used

  • ‘Her eyes were wild’- desire to be free or dangerous.

  • ‘Garland for her hand,’- circular images- adoration or entrapment?

  • ‘As’- ambiguous language

  • ‘Moan’- of satisfaction/ protest

  • ‘And nothing else saw all day long’- entranced/monitoring

  • ‘She’- change in control

  • ‘Roots of relish sweet’- ambiguity- caring/poisoning

  • ‘Strange’- ambiguous/unreliable

  • ‘And there she wept and sigh’d fill sore’- ambiguous language- did she cry because their love is impossible or is she crying because she’s unwell

  • ‘And there I shut her’- comforting/suppressing

  • ‘Wild wild’- repetition to remind the reader that she’s from a different world or that she needs her freedom ● ‘She’- she is in control

  • ‘Lulled me asleep’- ambiguity, under a spell? Comforting?

  • ‘On a cold hill’s side’- foreboding

  • ‘Pale’- plosives connote harshness of the verse

  • ‘Pare warriors, death-pale were they all’- parallel with the knight

  • ‘Pale’- repetition

  • ‘Thrall’- power- the beautiful woman without mercy is in power

  • ‘On a cold hill’s side’- repetition

  • ‘Sojourn’- temporary visit-is there a sense of optimism here

  • ‘Alone and palely loitering...’- repetition.

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