How does the setting emphasize the knight’s dilemma?

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The landscape in which the knight-at-arms is depicted at the beginning and, for that matter, the end of "La Belle Dame sans Merci" is lifeless and sterile.

The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
This is an instance of what Ruskin called the pathetic...

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The landscape in which the knight-at-arms is depicted at the beginning and, for that matter, the end of "La Belle Dame sans Merci" is lifeless and sterile.

The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
This is an instance of what Ruskin called the pathetic fallacy. The bleak landscape reflects the knight's desolation and heartbreak. The word "withered" is particularly expressive of joyless aridity, and the lack of birdsong serves to emphasize the bleakness. The image of the squirrel's granary in the following verse is a comfortable and comforting one, but the whole point is that it is safely removed from the landscape in which the knight finds himself. All the riches of harvest have been hoarded away underground, while the unfortunate knight is left exposed and vulnerable upon "the cold hill side."
The knight says that he met the lady in the "meads," which is to say meadows or pastures; lush green fields quite different from the cold hill side. Here, he was able to find flowers plentiful enough to make into garlands for her. She also found and fed him honey, manna and "roots of relish sweet." All this natural plenitude, which he remembers but which now seems like a dream, provides a stark contrast with the dry, cold hill side which is the setting of the poem.
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