Symbolism in "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

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Keat’s poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is a dream-like journey symbolizing love as a cycle of life and death, in contrast to an idealism of eternal love. The theme of this ballad presents in imagery of haggard faces, and knights of old. A daydream on a hillside reflects on symbols of past experience, and the commonality of love’s experience. An indictment of women as a source of suffering exists here. Symbolism incorporated throughout the poem gives clues as to the true theme of this work: the acceptance of love’s ideals and its reality and mortality.

Numerous symbols give clear announcement of the death theme present within the poem. Our knight is "Alone and palely loitering". The narrator asks: “O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms! So haggard and so woe-begone?” (Penguin Academics) A pale knight compared to the color of a lily, a traditional symbol of death. (Melani) The first speaker says little about himself. On the other hand, he develops the situation of the poem rather fully. The poem is set in the fall. "the squirrel's granary is full." (Penguin Academics) The grasses have withered, and birds have migrated away. Cyclic events are presented which imply a temporary circumstance, and not a true end. Spring will come, birds will return. And the grasses will grow again. Since the setting is a reflection of the knight’s emotional state, the ballad implies a future rebirth. Evidently this is of no consequence to our distraught pale knight, who physically expresses the emotional death of love.

The pale knight suffers from a disease of idealism. This is evidenced by the very description as a knight. A knight is a traditionally honor bound ideal of chivalry. Conceptually he may have assumed a fixed and eter...

... middle of paper ... is also rebirth and regrowth. The common symbol of the knight represents a fixed understanding that in the end is so inflexible that it breaks. The elf-like nature of the female figure represents the knight’s idealistic antithesis. She is the very nature of nature. She is impermanent, wild, and unrestrained. The season will begin anew when he accepts he cannot control the nature of things.

Works Cited
Melani, Lilia. La Belle Dame Sans Merci. 2007. 19 11 2009 .

Napierkowski, Marie Rose and Mary Ruby, Poetry for Students: Presenting Ananlysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

Penguin Academics. Literature, A Pocket Anthology. Ed. R.S.Gwynn. 4th. New York: Penguin Academics, 2008.

Reyes, Mary de. "John Keats." Poetry Review (1913): 72-82.
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