La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad

La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad

by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Summary of La Belle Dame sans Merci

  • Popularity of “La Belle Dame sans Merci”: John Keats, a great English poet wrote ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’. It is a ballad published in 1819. The title was derived from the poem, La Belle Dame sans Mercy, written by Alain Chartier. The poem speaks about the story of a knight and a beautiful woman. It then illustrates how love plays a significant role in man’s life. Its popularity, however, lies in the theme of sadness, death, and power of seduction.
  • “La Belle Dame sans Merci” as a Representative of Deception: The poem narrates a tragic story of a knight who falls in love with a lady, but she leaves him as falls ill. A stranger meets the knight and inquires about his miserable condition. The knight tells him about the beautiful woman in the meadows. They have been in love as she has walked alongside him and sung beautiful songs for him. Once, she took him to her special place where he kissed her, and the calmness around made him sleep. He then dreamed strange people warning him about that fair lady. He woke up by the cold hillside where the stranger found him. The tragic ballad tells about the sad condition of the knight and the deception of the lady.
  • Major Themes in “La Belle Dame sans Merci”: Illusion versus reality, death, love, and seduction are the major themes of this poem. The lady, with her beauty, enslaved the knight and left him to die at the lake. Also, the knight’s dream indicates that was not the first time she trapped a man. In fact, there is a series of ill-fated men to whom she ditched. The poem gives a message that love, beauty, and joy are short-lived and that physical beauty and seduction can mislead a person.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “La Belle Dame sans Merci”

Literary devices are tools used by writers to convey their emotions, ideas, and themes to make texts more appealing to the reader.  John Keats has also used plenty of literary devices in this poem to express the miserable condition of a knight. The analysis of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “So haggard and so woe-begone” and the sound of /i/ in “And there I shut her wild wild eyes”.
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /n/ in “And honey wild, and manna-dew” and the sound of /l/ in “Alone and palely loitering”.
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /w/ in “With horrid warning gapèd wide.”
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “She took me to her Elfin grot”, “I saw pale kings and princes too” and “And there she wept and sighed full sore.”
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it moves over the next line. For example,

“The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.”

  1. Symbolism: Symbolism means to use symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. The phrases such as; “no birds sing”, “lily on thy brow” and “fading rose” symbolize the arrival of death.
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different in nature. For example, “I see a lily on thy brow”. Here the paleness is compared to a white lily.
  3. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, ‘and there’ is repeated in the eighth stanza to emphasize the point.

“And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “La Belle Dame sans Merci”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are twelve stanzas in this poem, each having four lines.
  2. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, each stanza is quatrain.
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABCB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues until the end.
  4. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “sour/four”, “child/wild”, “zone/moan” and “betide/side.”
  5. Repetition: The following lines have been repeated in the first and last stanza of the poem which has created a musical quality in the poem. For example,

Alone and palely loitering?
The sledge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.”

  1. Refrain: The lines that are repeated at some distance in the poems are called refrain. The following verses have been repeated with the same words as given below.

Alone and palely loitering?
The sledge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.”

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used by a lover to adore a person’s beauty and express love.

“I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.”