English romantic poet John Keats was born on October 31st 1795 in London. He lost both parents at an early age and became an apprentice at fifteen with his guardian at his surgery. He became professional in the field but chose to write poetry. He wrote his best poetry between 1818 and 1819 after falling in love. He died of tuberculosis, the romantic disease, in the autumn of 1856. ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ is a very beautiful, magical and captivating poem.
It is very mysterious and leaves the reader feeling a little bemused. I had to read this ballad several times before understanding fully what it was about but I think this is only because of the more complex language used. The rhythm is slightly abrupt in places and I think the whole romanticism of this poem would put some readers off. This is a exceptionally beautiful story, very much a fairy tale and is surprisingly simple once the language is mastered.
Using many comparisons to nature, the poet strongly emphasizes the wildness of the setting to help back up how wild and naturally beautiful this enchanting woman is. Beginning with a question and a good one too, this captures attention to the poem easily. Why is the Knight loitering around such a desolate and probably wintered place? And the question is then repeated as if the Knight is in a trance. With a pale face, wrinkles on his brow and a sweat of ‘fever dew’ he begins to explain in the fourth measure, his story of how he came to be here…
He met a wild, very beautiful, mystifying woman who, with her ‘faery’-like charm wooed him under her spell. She cried and he comforted her. Why was she crying? She then allured him into a dream where he saw many people all pale crying out with large starving mouths in the twilight; ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci hath thee in thrall!’ The knight woke sitting on ‘the cold hill’s side’ never sleeping, lost in his love for that appealing, beautiful woman who captured him. There are three stages of tone in this poem: the first, curious and cold, while the second is full of life, beauty and love. In the third section the knight telling the story is quickly brought back to the coldness and death of the hillside where he is cursed to roam.
The mystery of this tale helps to captivate the audience and the typical saga of love not being appreciated is something people can strongly relate to making this poem a success! In La Belle Dame even the romantic French title illustrates beauty whereas Miss Gee is the obvious title for a poem about a very dull person like Miss Gee. La Belle Dame is a very abstract poem using nature and fairy tale to describe love and heartache. Miss Gee uses unpretentious language and very concrete facts. There is little imagination towards it but this is perfect for conveying such a faint character as Edith Gee.
The story of La Belle Dame is about a beautiful woman who captures ‘warriors and princesses’ with her undying beauty. Unfortunately ‘Miss Gee’ is the complete opposite- certainly not beautiful and not charming anyone, not even a friend. She would appreciate someone who would be interested in her but the beautiful woman only uses the people who fall for her. The fact that the students who cut up and laugh at Miss Gee are men compares well to the next poem where the woman has power over the men. The beautiful woman feels no guilt almost making her evil, soul less but Miss Gee even feels guilt for her dreams. This really shows that beauty is only skin deep and Miss Gee never got the chance or had the confidence to prove this… Yet through La Belle anyone that got to know her and were captured by her beauty then realized that she was not all she appeared to be- ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci hath thee in thrall!’
Both poems take in the issue of loneliness- the brave Knight who can only blame his gullible self and the forlorn Miss Edith who wants so badly to have companionship. Both ballads don’t have happy endings- Miss Gee’s unfortunate death with her body being used for gawking students and the Knight who was left ‘palely loitering’. Overall I preferred ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ because it is an enchanting story leaving you wondering what happened to the Knight because most fairy tales have a happy ending. The person at the start who asked the question might have helped him escape and the Knight said; ‘that is why I sojourn here’. Sojourn means ‘to stay temporarily’, which means that maybe the Knight was expecting to break the curse. Being a stereotypical fairytale Knight this ‘escape’ would be probable. ‘Miss Gee’ was sad and deplorable yet it was somewhat realistic- not all lives have a happy ending.