La Belle Dame sans Merci, written by famous romantic poet John Keats in 1819, has been declared one of Keats’s greatest works due to the ambiguous boundaries it sets between imagination and reality [Kelly]. Throughout the poem, the reader always questions the “reality” presented by the poem, creating many facets that the readers have discussed for years and still have not established a definite answer as to their true meaning. La Belle Dame sans Merci embodies Keats’s “negative capability” perfectly. Keats believed that people of great intellectual prowess must retain the ability to accept that everything might not have a clear-cut value and that there is not always one true answer. This is the essence of negative capability, and the poem requires readers to utilize this mindset in order to possibly understand the mysticism the poem creates through the knight-in-arms’s tale.
La Belle Dame sans Merci consists of twelve quatrains, eight of them pertaining to the knight’s depiction of his short-lived love with a “faery’s child.” The first three stanzas belong to an unknown speaker addressing the knight. The first two stanzas are nearly the same, with their first line questioning the knight’s condition, their second line illustrating the condition of the knight, and their last two lines containing imagery illustrating a scene of winter. The third stanza depicts the knight further, showing his vitality decaying with “[his] cheeks a fading rose / fast withereth too.” The fact that there was a “rosy” quality to his cheeks but now is fading parallels with one leaving a warm house (the mead) and stepping into the winter’s cold (the hill.) This correlates with a latter portion of the poem when the knight claims that he fell asleep in the grotto and awoke on the hillside, a mystical element of the poem. The inclusion of this viewer supplies an objective force for the reader to refer to when reading the poem and helps construct the reality portion of the poem through describing the knight with a character other than the knight himself [Kelly]. The fantasy portion of the poem is created through the knight’s tale, which envelopes the remainder of the poem.
Stanzas IV through IX entail the quick relationship between the knight and the “faery’s child.” Stanzas IV through VI focus on the knight, showing his actions (“I met a lady,” “I made a garland,” “ I set her.”) The focus changes in stanzas VII through IX to the lady (“She found me roots,” “She took me,” “She lulled me.”) This transference of leadership in action indicates a seduction of the knight and that the lady is starting to become the one in control [Melani], contrasting from that presented by stanzas IV through VI. The lady also seduces the knight with “roots of relish sweet / and honey wild, and manna dew,” drawing the knight further into her grasp with her mystic and whimsical mannerisms.
However, there is an inconsistency from the rest of the encounter that stands out. In stanza...