Analysis of Keats' Captivating and Dismal Ballad "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

Analysis of Keats' Captivating and Dismal Ballad "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

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John Keats is a spell binding poet, who lived a short life of 25 years, but left behind a towering legacy in the Romantic period. His work “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is an imaginative masterpiece written in 1819, which was near his death in 1821. During the time he wrote the ballad, his brother died of tuberculosis; an ailment that swept over many members of his family, including him. He also became devoted to young woman, Fanny Brawne, but struggled with his continuous meager ownerships. The time of darkness, disease, and depression were close reflected in the ballad, where love and death both reign as did in his personal life. The central idea in the writing was risking everything for a pleasure that can be intoxicating, and can aid in one’s own demise. A spontaneous obsession radiates from the ballad, leaving Keats readers under a mysterious trance. These romanticism ideas were a clear break from the pressing restraints of society in the nineteenth century.
The ballad is a darker postmortem on romance (Wolfson 275). It’s an enticing story on the arrival of knight who appears “haggard, and loitering” in an autumn setting. He shares his perplexing dream like story, where he meets a “faery child” in a mysterious meadow. The knight courts her and prances her around on his stead, obsessed by his new captivating pleasure. He finds that she speaks a strange tongue, but believes she speaks of loving him. With a few kisses and a lulling sleep, he dreams of pale kings with warning signs that she is a merciless beautiful woman. But it’s too late to heed to the warnings because he is now palely loitering on the cold hill side among loneliness.
Once you enter in the mystifying ballad of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” you are captivated b...


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...cy, is stated to be an allegory of Keats and Fanny (Keats and his love), or one of Keats and tuberculosis (Keats and death) (Almeida 97). I find it a mixture of both. The ballad carries the aspects of a setting of dark, unwanted death, but also that of a medieval love of beauty and enchantment.



Works Cited

Almeida, Hermione de. Critical Essays on John Keats. Boston, G.K. Hall & Co., 1990. 97-327.
John Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” Poetic Works, 1884, Bartleby.com: Great Books Online, ed. Steven van Leeuwen, 2002, 5 May 2002 http://www.bartleby.com/126/55.htm.
Murry, John Middleton. Keats and Shakespeare; a Study of Keats’ Poetic Life from 1816-1820. London, Oxford University Press, 1925. 82.
Wolfson, Susan J. The Questioning Presence: Wordsworth, Keats, and the Interrogative Mode in Romantic Poetry. Ithics: Cornell University Press, 1986. 275-301.

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