La Belle Dame sans Merci

by John Keats

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What season is the poem "La Belle Dame sans Merci" set in?

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The poem "La Belle Dame sans Merci" is set in the season of winter.

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John Keats's poem "La Belle Dame sans Merci" provides plenty of hints about the season in which it is set. In the first stanza, we read that "The sedge has withered from the lake." Sedge is a type of grass, and grass withers in the late fall and winter. No birds sing, so they must have already flown south. Further, the harvest is complete, and "The squirrel's granary is full." Winter is at least approaching, if not already upon the land.

The middle stanzas of the poem, however, take us back to summer days when the knight first met the lady in a beautiful meadow. The flowers were plentiful then, for he wove a garland to place on her head. The couple eats sweet roots, wild honey, and "manna-dew," all foods of summer. Then the lady sings the knight to sleep on a hillside.

When the knight awakens, the lady is gone, and the hill is cold and bleak. Summer has passed, and winter is arriving or has already come. The knight is miserable, for he is held forever in the thrall of "La Belle Dame sans Merci." His summer of love and beauty has turned to a winter of loneliness and pain.

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The poem is set in winter, though the knight recalls a more bountiful season as he tells his story to the questioner.

As the poem opens—in what is the present day in the poem—it is silent and the landscape is withered, suggesting the deathlike atmosphere of winter. The speaker asks the knight twice,

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms?

The speaker says, too, the the knight looks "pale," "haggard," and "woe-begone."

The knight then tells his story. He met a beautiful woman. At this point, in the past, it was spring or summer. He made her a "garland," and she fed him "roots of relish sweet" as well as manna and honey. All seemed well until the woman took him to her grotto and lulled him to sleep. When he awoke, after a horrible dream of seeing "death-pale" warriors, he found himself alone on a "cold" hillside, the woman gone. In the dream, he was told by the other men that the woman was the "Belle Dame sans Merci," or the beautiful lady without mercy, who abandoned him as heartlessly as she had the others.

Variations of the word wither are used repeatedly to describe the landscape. The cold, wintry setting matches the cold, deathlike feelings that hold the knight in their grip. This is an example of the pathetic fallacy, which occurs when the weather or the landscape reflects the emotional state of a character in a work of literature.

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At the beginning of the poem, the knight is found by a lake, and we are told that the "sedge has withered ... / And no birds sing." The fact that the "sedge" (a kind of grass at the edge of the lake) has "withered" suggests that the poem is set in winter. The fact that the birds have stopped singing also suggests that it is winter, as many birds stop singing once the nestling period finishes in the autumn.

In the second stanza, we are told that the "squirrel's granary is full, / And the harvest's done." Squirrels gather nuts in the autumn, in preparation for winter, so the fact that the harvest is "done" implies that autumn has ended and winter has begun.

There are also throughout the poem several references to or suggestions of coldness, further suggesting that the poem is set in winter. For example, the knight falls asleep on "the cold hill side," and he dreams of "pale kings" and "Pale warriors." The phrase "the cold hill side" is repeated twice in the poem, and the repetition of the word "pale" further suggests and emphasizes the impression of a wintry coldness.

The winter setting is significant because it reflects the emotional and physical state of the knight. Winter as a season is associated with coldness and death, and the knight has been left cold and emotionally dead by his encounter with the eponymous "Belle Dame sans Merci." The knight feels as if the "Belle Dame" has drained him of all life and energy and has left him feeling cold and lifeless. The season of winter likewise often feels lifeless and of course cold.

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The action at the beginning and the end of the poem seems to take place in autumn or early winter. We know this because of a number of features of the natural world to which the speaker refers. First of all, there is the withered sedge, a kind of grass-like plant that grows near lakes. If the sedge is withered, that means, by process of elimination, that we're not dealing with either spring or summer here. It's also instructive that the knight wakes up on the "cold hill's side," emphasizing once more that summer has long since gone.

A further clue is provided by the reference to the fact that no birds are singing. This could possibly mean that the birds that normally inhabit this part of the world have migrated to warmer climates for the winter. Furthermore, we're told that the squirrel's granary is full, meaning that he's stored his nuts for the forthcoming winter. The squirrel's response to the changing of the seasons is paralleled by that of humans, who've brought in the harvest.

The fateful encounter between the knight and the lady, however, appears to take place during spring or summer. The knight recalls how she brought him "honey-wild, and manna-dew," indicating that this is a time of plenty. The knight also made garlands for the lady's head as well as bracelets. Presumably, he made them out of flowers, suggesting once more that his seduction and subsequent abandonment by the lady took place in either spring or summer.

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In which season does Keats set the poem "La Belle Dame sans Merci"?

In the 1819 ballad "La Belle Dame sans Merci" (the beautiful lady without mercy), John Keats does not say explicitly what season it is set. However, there are several lines that provide clear clues. The last two lines of the second stanza refer to a squirrel's full granary and a completed harvest. This indicates that this poem is set during autumn.

The season of autumn does have some significance. When Keats wrote this ballad, he was very preoccupied with death. He was ill with tuberculosis, the same disease that had killed his brother years before. Autumn is the final season before plants die for the winter. To Romantic poets like Keats, autumn represents the time in one's life when they can look back on what they "harvested" as they prepare for life's final stages. In this poem, the knight, who may very well be a representation of Keats himself, faces both love and death. With the harvest over, it is easy to imagine a scene in which plants are beginning to shrivel, and the songbirds have all gone away. The knight finds himself alone in this gloomy landscape. This paints a somber and contemplative mood for the poem. Therefore, autumn is a fitting season in which to set this ballad.

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Which season is the poem "La Belle Dame sans Merci" set in? How do you know?

There are various clues in the poem which suggest what season of the year it is when the events of the poem take place. For example, early in the poem, it is mentioned that the "sedge"—a sort of grassy rush which grows near water—has "withered," which suggests that summer is over and the plants are beginning to dry up. This impression is cemented by the comment that there are no birds singing, so it is definitely not summer, a season defined by its vibrance and birdsong. We are also then told that the squirrel's "granary is full." Assuming that squirrels would normally fill their granaries with nuts and berries from the autumn season, this suggests that it is now late autumn, as does the subsequent comment that "the harvest's done." The season appears, then, to be moving on from the fruitfulness of autumn into the scarcity and starkness of winter, in which few living things can be observed.

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