Explore the view that in Keats’ poems, ‘La belle dame sans merci’ and ‘Isabella; or, The pot
of basil’ men are portrayed as weak and passive.
To say that the men in the two poems ‘La belle dame sans merci’ and ‘Isabella; or, The pot
of basil’ are weak and passive is an oversimplified statement, which in no way accounts for
the complexity of the male characters themselves. To begin with, the poem ‘La belle dame
sans merci’ starts with an unnamed “knight at arms” who is “alone and palely loitering”
suggesting he is lonely, isolated and secluded. The adjective ‘loitering’ suggests he is lost in
his own thoughts and perhaps this shows a loss of identity; he has no motive and has given
up. Furthermore, the idea of the knight staying ‘alone’ and ‘loitering’ is not typically expected
of a knight. On the other hand, in the poem ‘Isabella; or, The pot of basil’, Lorenzo is initially
described as “a young palmer in Love’s eye” suggesting that Lorenzo worships Isabella. This
leads to them (Lorenzo and Isabella) stepping out of conventional boundaries; which
inevitably has fatal consequences. The personification of ‘love’ shows it’s magnitude and
power which makes the protagonists seem weak and helpless to their fate. In addition, this
line also reminds the audience of the Shakespeare play ‘Romeo and Juliet’. One quote in
this play reads “palm to palm is holy Palmers kiss.” In Romeo and Juliet, both of the lovers
die. Keats is hinting that this poem could have a similar ending.
A semantic field of suffering is presented when Lorenzo states “I will drink her tears,” which
implies Lorenzo is the cause of Isabella’s grief. It also shows how delicate Lorenzo’s love is.
Perhaps this could also be foreshadowing Lorenzo’s death, as he is soon to be buried in the
forest like a plant while Isabella will weep over him, feeding him with her tears.
Contrastingly, the physical appearance of the knight reflects upon how he is presented as
weak and passive. The knight has “a fading rose” on his cheek which not only symbolises
the idea of the love fading between him and La belle dame but also illustrates the blood
draining from his face, suggesting an illness or death. The fact that their love was like “a
fading rose” makes you question if the love was there to begin with. The “lilly on [his] brow”
is a metaphor for the knights death since lilies were associated as funeral flowers.
Furthermore the knight is “so haggard and so woe-begone” suggesting he is physically and
The lady the knight met “in the meads” was the knight’s weakness, who brought upon the
Knight’s hamartia. She is a femme fatale and a master seductress who took advantage of
the knight with her “long” hair and “wild” eyes. The verb “wild” suggests La belle dame was
predatory and animalistic and perhaps outgoing which demonstrates how Keats subverts the
typical ideas of the time in his poem. The knight developed a sense of hubris for the woman,
complimenting himself through her,...