What are the similarities and differences between the poems "First Love" and "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These two poems both tell of men who are fully taken by the beauty of a woman, falling instantly in love.  It is about the passion of love at first sight, and how it can take you hostage and leave you changed.  The similarities are mentioned above, in meaning and theme.  In both poems the man sees a beautiful woman and is entranced:  "I ne'er was struck before that hour/with love so sudden and so sweet/her face it bloomed like a sweet flower/and stole my heart away complete" and "I met a lady in the meads/Full beauty-a faery's child/Her hair was long, her foot was light/And her eyes were wild."  In both excerpts, the man has met a beautiful woman.  Then, in the end, both men feel changed, overtaken somehow, and left alone:  "My heart has left its dwelling place and can return no more" and "And this is why I sojourn here/Alone and palely loitering."  So both are left alone, changed, never the same again.

The differences are that "First Love" is a man who falls in love, and that is that; in "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," it is a knight who falls in love with an enchantress who leaves him stranded and alone after seducing him and lulling him to sleep.  The second poem is more mystical, and fantasy, whereas the first is more what we might encounter in the real, every day world.

I hope those ideas get you started!  Good luck!

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First Love

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