La Belle Dame Sans Merci is one of the most appreciated, criticised poems of John Keats because much critical analysis was conducted by critics on it. This poem, in fact, is a ballad, in which Keats tells a story to his readers. The story of a beautiful lady and to illustrate his tale, he takes the help of a knight in the shape of a character, who suffers at the hands of a beautiful lady. She is beautiful and merciless at the same time as the title of the poem indicates. Undeniably, Keats’ poetry is romantic. Likewise, this poem is also full of romantic ingredients. However, he does not make it clear about whom does he talk. Analysis of La Belle Dame Sans Merci reveals that the poem is suggestive in nature.
It is a well-known fact to students of literature that John Keats in every poem compares two opposite things. For instance, in his poem “A Grecian Urn”, he compares the mortality of humans with the immortality of art and Ode on Melancholy analysis reveals that he compares beauty with melancholy. In the poem under discussion too, he repeats the same technique but he compares beauty and pain. The same comparison can also be observed in his poem “Ode to Nightingale”.
Title Analysis of La Belle Dame Sans Merci:
As mentioned earlier, the poet tells us a story through this beautiful ballad but the story contains pleasure and pain at the same time. It is very much obvious from the title of the poem. He names this poem in the French language. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” means “The Beautiful Lady without Mercy”. Alain Chartier, who was a French poet, wrote a long narrative ballad with the same title and John Keats borrowed the title of the poem from him. In the shortest possible words, if we narrate a summary of the poem, the poet tells how a knight suffers at the hands of a beautiful maiden. A knight always remained a symbol of bravery in almost all books of literature but in spite of having good strength and standing at the front in the war, the knight suffers the agony of love.
The poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” starts with an analysis of a “knight-at-arms”, who appears ill. The poet directly addresses him and enquires about the reason behind his ailment and loneliness. The knight feels tired like the plant of “sedge”, whose decay is very much near. The last line of the first stanza gives us a depressing atmosphere. “And no birds sing” is an answer to all the above-asked questions, which is the outcome of the sadness in the knight’s heart.
In the first stanza, the poet paints a mysterious atmosphere. We have a clue that the knight is in depression and looks weary but still, we are unaware that why is he in depression. It is also one of the main ingredients of Keats’ poetry that it revives the medieval age. This poem is also based on medieval themes. That’s why he illustrates his tale with the help of a Knight instead of a soldier.
Again the poet repeats his question and directly asks the knight what is bothering him. Why he looks so pale and exhausted? Keats then describes that none of the general problems is of depressing in nature. “Squirrel’s granary is full, and the harvest’s done”. If all is right then which thing bothers the knight?
From a deeper analysis of Stanza 2 of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, if we gain a conclusion then we come to know that poet wants us to imagine the agonies of the knight. It is, therefore, he does not reveal the reason behind the knight’s mental disorder.
Readers can clearly do an analysis of the sorrowful situation of the knight in Stanza 3 of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. This stanza transpires Keats’ mastery in using similes and comparing two things for the purpose of elaboration. This is the last stanza, in which the poet describes the “withereth” of the knight. However, the reason behind it is still a mystery, which he solves in the next stanza.
Stanza 4 Critical Analysis of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”:
Finally, after asking, again and again, the speaker gets an answer to his questions. He replies “I met a lady in the meads”. Then he describes the beauty of that lady. The whole stanza is based on a description of that lady whom the knight has met. We can realise Keats’ expertise in this stanza of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” in doing an analysis of imagery in such a lucid way that every reader can imagine what Keats wants to portray.
Knight replied that he met with a lady, who was as “beautiful” as a “faery’s child”. She had long hair and her eyes were wild. The narration technique of the poet is self-evident. Step by step, like a novelist, John Keats describes each and everything minutely which increases the interest of the readers in the story.
This stanza is a continuation of the previous one. Knight creates “garland” and “bracelets” from flowers, which she wears. She expresses her emotions and sexual pleasure through her wild eyes when she moans while looking towards the knight.
Subjectively, if we speak about this stanza of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, an autobiographical analysis of Keats’ life elucidates that John Keats was in love with Fanny Brawne. In this stanza, perhaps the poet expresses his own story in the guise of a knight. Maybe, it is the poet that makes “garland” and “bracelets” for Fanny Brawne. Nonetheless, most of the critics argue that the poem is entirely objective in nature and Fanny Brawne has no concern whatsoever at least with this poem.
Keats portrays the feelings of two new lovers at starting of their relationship in this stanza. Imagery, painted in this stanza, is much impressive. In fact, the poet has captured a realistic picture of two lovers through words. Both the lovers (knight and La Belle) spend time with each other and sing songs.
Stanza 6 is no more than an analysis of a growing love affair between “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and the knight.
Stanza 7 Critical Analysis of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”:
The girl falls in love with the knight. It seems that the knight is in her control. Too much imagery is apparent in this stanza of the poem. “roots of relish sweet”, “wild honey” and “manna dew” all are images that Keats has painted in this poem due to which it is one of the greatest poems of John Keats.
The lady expresses her love very frankly without any feeling of shyness. The last line of the stanza is a direct expression of her emotions for her lover when she says “I love thee true”.
The previous stanza is about the love of the girl for the knight whereas this stanza is the expression of love that she gets in return from him. She takes the knight with her to a cave where she weeps not because of pain but because of overwhelmed emotions. In order to soothe her, the knight closes her eyes and “kisses [her] four [times]”.
Analysis of Keats’ poetry including “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is much more difficult because his poetry is for emotions. Readers do not only read it but also feel it. Hence, its meanings are entirely dependent on the imagination of readers. Stanza 8 is an example of it.
Stanza 9 & 10:
9th and 10th stanzas are dramatic though dependent on each other. Suddenly, we see an unexpected change. The Knight falls asleep and sees a nightmare, an analysis of which is that many “kings” and “princes” fall in love with “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. She cheats them all.
There is a comparison between love and pain in this stanza. Keats in one of his poems says that melancholy dwells with beauty. The best part of the poem is when Knight feels himself the luckiest person but his pleasure is not everlasting. Precisely, if we define the meanings of these stanzas then suffice it to say that sorrows can never be separated from love.
Stanza 11 & 12 Critical Analysis of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”:
Like John Keats, the knight becomes a victim of love. He, in his dream, observes the condition of the former lovers of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, who have left the knight alone to do an analysis of his real life.
From this stanza, we realise that the entire poem is ironic. The knight falls in love with a lady, spends many lovely moments with her and ultimately feels that her love is everlasting however in the end, through a dream, he comes to know that everything was temporary.
The dream of the knight was in fact reality and reality was in fact his imagination/dream. Meaning thereby that he was dreaming when he falls in love with that beautiful girl and his nightmare is the actual reality when he wakes up from his dream. Keats has compared the world of imagination with the world of reality. Everything is concluded in the last stanza of the poem when the knight says “this is why I sojourn here”.
The poet starts the poem in despair and ends in despair, however, there is a development of thought in the middle stanzas of the poem. The tone of the poet and his mode change from stanza to stanza. The poet has achieved artistic economy through this ballad. Ballads are always lyrical and this ballad is too. So far as themes of the poem are concerned those are “Imagination Vs. Reality”, “Sorrows Vs. Love”, “Expectations Vs. Reality”, “Beauty Vs. Melancholy” and “Mortal Vs. Immortal”.