How is "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" a romantic poem?

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The poem "La Belle Sans Merci" can be considered a romantic poem because of the fleeting love between the fairy lady and the knight. The poem ends tragically, with the knight losing the love of the beautiful fairy woman, but the love still existed, and the knight is sick and forlorn specifically because of his romantic feelings. The poem may be a reflection on the fleetingness of many romantic encounters and may even be a declaration of how, so often, romantic love does not last the length of one's lifetime and often ends in hurt. The knight, even in his sadness and corpse-like state, is still enthralled with the lady and is consumed by the romance that he had with her and the love he has lost.

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It's important to keep in mind that Romanticism was, at its core, a reaction against the cold rationalism espoused by the Enlightenment. The Romantics emphasized ideals such as passion, emotion, and beauty. It was a spirit founded in fierce individualism.

"La Belle Dame sans Merci" is certainly a Romantic poem which looks away from Keats's contemporary age—it looks backward toward the Middle Ages and toward British folklore. It's a "fairy story" in which a knight is beguiled by a fairy maiden. Note, however, that the poem's fairy is actually a predatory force. Furthermore, note how the poem resolves: with the magic and beauty stripped away, leaving the knight wandering a deserted hillside.

There is a tension here between beauty and disorientation, and this tension is something that points toward the very heart of Romanticism. The Romantics stressed the intensity of human emotion, and in so doing, they recognized its turbulence. Keats does the same in how he embraces the darker undertones of mythology and leaves his protagonist tormented by his encounter with it.

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Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" has traits both of the romantic, in the modern sense, and of the Romantic in the sense of the Romantic movement. It is romantic in that it paints a picture of the encounter between a young knight and a "full beautiful" lady who "looked at me as she did love / And made sweet moan." I assume, however, your question is really more concerned with the traits of Romanticism which pervade this poem, which served as inspiration for later literary movements, including the pre-Raphaelites, who admired its focus upon a psuedo-Arthurian past.

References to the past, often without specifics, often occur in Romantic poetry. The Romantics frequently alluded to the classical, but an aspect of dwelling in a nebulous past served to further the Romantic preoccupation with a more innocent time, untouched by industry and modern drudgery. The knight in this poem, certainly, exhibits this sort of naivety, allowing the beautiful lady to lure him with her "faery's song" into her "Elfin grot." Lulled to sleep by the lady, the knight sees a vision of "pale warriors," presumably the former victims of the fairy lady, who tell him he too is now "in thrall."

The Romantic preoccupation with nature, too, and the inspirational beauty of nature, permeates this poem. The knight is drawn into his "thrall" by the "wild" eyes of the lady in the "meads," a creature of nature. Accordingly, he decks her in a "garland" of flowers, and she finds him "honey wild, and manna dew." When the knight has been left alone on the "cold hillside" by the lady, by contrast, the natural world around him is withering: the "rose" and "lily" of the knight's own beauty are in decline, and "the sedge is withered from the lake / And no birds sing." Nature seems to reflect the knight's emotional state, an example of pathetic fallacy.

The emotional response of the knight to the faery has left him "cold" and "palely loitering." However, like the "pale kings and princes" who had gone before him, he is now seemingly left with his new wisdom to act as a new "warning" to others, an example of the poet-as-visionary trope also common to Romantic philosophy.

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