“La Belle Dame sans Merci,” written in 1819 and published the next year in a form slightly different from the one here, depicts a knight-at-arms who has been seduced and abandoned by a capricious fairy. Told in the form of a dialogue, the poem recounts the experience of loving dangerously and fully, of remaining loyal to that love despite warnings to the contrary, and of suffering the living death of one who has glimpsed immortality. At the beginning and end of the poem, the knight remains on “a cold hill’s side,” a world devoid of happiness or beauty, waiting for his love to return. Some readers maintain that the poem is really about Keats’s confused feelings for Fanny Brawne, his fiancée, to whom Keats could not commit fully. Others claim the story is symbolic of the plight of the artist, who, having “fallen in love” with beauty, can never fully accept the mundane. Either way, the conclusion is the same: however self-destructive intense love may be, the lover has little choice in the matter. Further, the more one entertains feelings of beauty and love, the more desolate and more painful the world becomes.
Did this raise a question for you?