John Keats’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci” parallels the predicament of a dying knight with the final moments of his life, and love for Fanny Brawne. Keats’s obsession with willing suspension of disbelief and shadows of the imagination are exemplified in the ballad. The poem displays romanticism with hyperbole describing each character. Keats’s poem, “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, is explicated through the structure, tone, hyperbole, and parallels to his love life and final moments; all of these instances in this poem relate to romanticism.
Romanticism, or the Romantic period, was a movement that focused on art, writing, and development of the human mind. This revolution started in Europe and lasted from approximately 1800 to 1850. This period in history was a response to the Enlightenment and scientific explanations as to how the world came to be. Even though Romanticism was mostly shown in fine arts, this period is also related with radicalism due to farfetched thoughts of human emotion. The time period allowed people to express new emotions, such as lust, terror, and despair. These ideas are embodied in the work of John Keats.
From the beginning of the poem, Keats captures historical moments and parallels his own life. The title itself is in French and roughly translates to “The beautiful lady without mercy”. Without knowing what the title meant ahead of time, the poem would not makes as much sense to the reader. In fact, the title is an allusion to an already-written poem by Alain Chartier. Chartier’s poem depicts a medieval romance with fairytale elements. Chartier’s poem was an inspiration for Keats to add feudal components to his poem. Keats also sets the poem up with structure.
“La Belle Dame sans Merci” is divided into twelve quatrains and follows an ABCB rhyme scheme. The meter of the poem is iambic tetrameter, meaning that there are four stressed and unstressed feet per line. However, the fourth line of each quatrain is consistently shorter. In the beginning of the poem, the narrator asks the reader, “O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, alone and palely loitering?” (Keats 1-2). The shortness of the fourth line adds meaning to the poem because it shows a shift in tone, and pushes the reader along as they read. The poem is a ballad, read orally from person to person. Because of this, the fourth line displays an end to the singing. Keats attempted to mimic ballads in this poem due to the aforementioned success that William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge had with “Lyrical Ballads”, which was John Keats’s template for writing this work. The collaboration between the poets was “his, and everyone’s principal reference” (Earl 2). Keats consistently read the works of Coleridge and used the basis of negative capability as a foundation for the poem. Negative capability was “the willing suspension of disbelief” (Earl 3), which was embodied in the knight and the belle dame.
Keats delves into characterization in...