The surface meaning of this poem is about this knight who is entranced and lured by this woman in the wilderness, a faery queen. The knight succumbs to her and is enamored with her, as they both immerse their hearts within one another. The knight wakes up at the end of the poem and is alone, with the woman nowhere to be found. The exact meaning of the poem is fairly complex and difficult to ascertain. Knights, by virtue, as supposed to be chaste and resistant to all charms, especially those of women. The fact that he gives in to this proves to be tragic, as he sacrifices his virtue for the woman that he supposedly loves. Another version of the poem could be that the knight is already dead, as we see "a lily on thy brow." The lily is a flower that is used to symbolize death. The poem is structured in 12 stanzas, each with an A-B-C-B rhyme scheme (Look at the first stanza: "arms" and "lake" do not rhyme, but "loitering" and "sing" do. Look at the fourth stanza: "meads" and "light" do not, "child" and "wild" do). The imagery used in the poem creates the feeling of the knight descending into another world and an element of mystique is present: ""The sedge has witerh'd from the lake" (line 3) and "No birds sing" (line 4) help to establish this mood in the first stanza. The first meeting between the knight and the woman happens in the fourth stanza and their eventual joining in some type of love happens in the fifth and sixth stanza. On one level it seems very physical, but there might be an emotional component present, depending on how one reads it. The ninth and tenth stanza presents the conflict in the poem, when both the knight and the woman are riding through the wilderness and the knight sees former kings and princes (who are either dead or have fallen victim to the charms of the woman). The knight, himself, realizes this when they say "Hath thee in thrall," which is meaning, "She has you, also." The conclusion of the poem ends with the knight being alone and even wandering or sojourning on his own. The theme of the poem might relate to broken relationships and being on one's own. There might also be a warning to people who embark in relationships without a proper foundation of understanding and communication.
In the Romantic Age there was a renewed interest in the ballad form which was sparked off by Percy's "Reliques" and Wolrdsworth and Coleridge's "Lyrical Ballads." Keats was influenced by the Ballad Revival and his literary ballad "La belle Dame sans Merci" (the beautiful pitiless lady) deals with the plight of a "knight-at-arms" who has been seduced by "a full beautifull faery's child" only to be deceived and enslaved by her.
The poem begins with the narrator asking the knight why he is wandering all alone on the bleak countryside at this odd time of the year. The pale and haggard knight replies that he met a beautiful, ethereal lady with whom he fell in love with straightaway. She reciprocated his offerings of love tokens and soon immediately took him to her home, where they consummated their love.
Soon she charmed him to sleep and vanished. While asleep he had a horrifying dream in which mighty kings and warriors-the former victims of this beautiful maiden-declared that the beautiful pitiless maiden had enslaved him forever. Frightened, he awakens from his nightmare to find himself wandering all alone on this deserted stretch of the countryside hoping that death would soon put him out of his misery.
Keats wrote this poem when he was suffering from T.B. He knew that he would die soon, so he was depressed. The overall mood of the poem reflects this disconsolate state. The expression "pale and haggard" describes the physical state of a person suffering from T.B.
The literary ballad epitomizes the following characteristics of the Romantic Age:love for nature, loneliness, love, the supernatural, mystery and mysticism.