Write a critical appreciation for the poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Keats wrote the poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" about a knight that has been taken in by the love of a "capricious" fairy. His love is full and true, but the fairy is not interested in this and leaves the knight, where he continues to wait for her to return. Though all signs point to the knight's ill-fate in pursuing his feelings, the knight's devotion never wavers.

Some readers maintain that the poem is really about Keats’s confused feelings for Fanny Brawne...Others claim the story is symbolic of the plight of the artist, who, having “fallen in love” with beauty, can never fully accept the mundane. 

Regardless of one's perception, the knight is beyond saving. One source notes that the more one loves, the more disappointing the rest of the world becomes.

An unidentified speaker approaches the knight and wonders why he is pale and alone—where not even a bird sings. Again (in the second stanza), the speaker asks after the knight—why does he looks so "haggard" and sad. The knight speaks of meeting a "lady;" she had long hair, was light-footed, and had wild eyes. They spent time together—and the looks she gave him spoke of love. Then...

...sidelong would she bend, and sing

A faery’s song.

It seems that having heard a faery's song, the knight would never be the same. Soon she tells him, "I love thee true." She takes him "to her Elfin grot," though she sighs and cries—but the knight kisses her four times. Then he falls asleep and dreams of knights, princes and warriors—all pale—trying to warn him of the danger of the faery's spell. He sees these ghostly-looking men with their...

…starved lips in the gloam,

With horrid warning gapèd wide...

But the warning means nothing, for here the knight still sits, lonely and pale in a place where "no birds sing."

While the time of the year determines the emptiness of the place where the knight waits (it's fall and the harvest is over), it also supports the mood of emptiness and sorrow—for spring and summer are gone, nothing grows and the birds have left with the expectation of colder weather to come.

This is a chivalrous knight, this pale and lonely man who waits for the impossible—the fairy to return to him.

Of a knight’s three profound allegiances—to his God, his lord, and his lady—only the last would be described in terms of lily-pallor and a faded rose.

And as a chivalric knight, his dedication and love for the "fairy" would have been a serious undertaking—a "forever thing." The fairy is not bound by such considerations, so she does not feel a sense of obligation to him in the least. Under her spell, he is doomed to spend the rest of his life, waiting for her.

The poem is written in twelve four-line stanzas. The rhyme scheme is abcb—the first and third lines do not rhyme (with the last word of the line), but the second and fourth lines do.

Keats' poem is fanciful at first glance, about a knight and a "faery." However, at second glance, this may well speak to the danger of losing one's heart in love.

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