Archetypes In John Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A Ballad

1530 words - 6 pages

Archetypes in John Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A Ballad"

During the Romantic Movement in literature, numerous writers fed off one another’s ideas; thus, creating various patterns which reoccur throughout literary works. According to “The Literature Network,” John Keats is “usually regarded as the archetype of the Romantic writer.” Therefore, Keats himself is thought to be the original model for the writer during the Romantic Era. In his poem, “La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad,” Keats uses various archetypes which provide added meaning and depth to this work of literature.

The archetype may be defined as “the original model from which something is developed or made; in literary criticism, those images, figures, character types, settings, and story patterns that…are universally shared by people across cultures” (Murfin and Ray 29). Analytical psychologist Carl Jung believes that archetypes are “embedded deep in humanity’s collective unconscious and involve ‘racial memories’ of situations, events, and relations that have been part of human experience from the beginning” (Murfin and Ray 29). Therefore, the archetype reoccurs over and over again in literary works from all time periods, such as seasonal connotations. For example, the season of spring is commonly associated with comedy, while summer is affiliated with romance.

Archetypal, or Jungian, criticism focuses on the various archetypes which occur in literature. It emerged in the 1930s and primarily “focuses on those patterns in a particular literary work that commonly recur in other literary works” (Murfin and Ray 28). Northrop Frye, author of The Anatomy of Criticism, “viewed the vast corpus of literary works as a ‘self-contained literary universe,’ one created by the human imagination to quell fears and fulfill wishes by reducing nature…to a set of basic, manageable (archetypal) forms” (Murfin and Ray 28). Therefore, archetypal criticism attempts to pinpoint various archetypes in literary works in order for human’s to catalog the archetypes with its significance in humanity’s collective unconscious; thus, drawing on the concept or idea for later reference.

Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad” features various archetypes. Frye proposed the existence of four types of plots, or “mythoi,” which make the four major genres. Each is associated with one of the four seasons: spring conveys comedy, summer is romance, fall shows tragedy, and winter yields satire (Murfin and Ray 28). “La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad” is about a knight who meets an untimely demise due to his affiliation with a supernatural woman. The outlook of this poem is bleak because the knight perishes; therefore, this poem is a tragedy. Lines 3-4 show the reader that the season in which the incident occurs is fall: “The sedge has wither’d from the lake, / And no birds sing” (Keats 845). Keats further engrains the season of fall in the reader’s mind in lines 7-8:...

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