What is the impact of Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"?    

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem is a meditation on the mystical quality of the natural world, as well as a paean to romantic, unattainable love. The girl the knight meets and falls in love with is a fairy, one of the fey, demi-human creatures who seduce humans. There was a strong belief and interest in fairy folklore when this poem was written. Legends say that when a human being eats or drinks anything offered by the fey, or engages in sexual relations with them, or follows them into caves or fairy groves, the human may lose track of time and find they've been away from their lives for years. Fairies use their magic to keep humans with them. The knight wanders lost for a long time because the fairy woman charms him and works a magic spell on him to make him forget his previous life and stay in the fairy realm.

lit24 | Student

In the Romantic Age there was a renewed interest in the ballad from which was sparked off by Percy's "Reliques" and Wordsworth 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 beautiful 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.

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La Belle Dame sans Merci

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