Keats' Poems and Letters

A Critical Appreciation of "La Belle Dame sans Merci"

The cursory reading of this poem is that it is merely a story of a knight bewitched by beauty, who becomes abject slave to a fairy woman, and who falls asleep, waking up alone and dying on a hillside in the meadow. However it could be perceived as a Romantic vision pertaining to the importance of youth, beauty and emotion, and to the transience of these factors.

The poem is written predominantly in the poetic form of a ballad, the subject matter is the communal tale of unrequited love and of a supernatural happening, themes common to the ballad; the stanzas are four lines long with an ABCB rhyme pattern and a memorable iambic tetrameter. However there are some deviations which lead the reader to realise the possibility that this is perhaps not so old a poem as the traditional form and archaic wording seem to suggest. This is most clearly evident in the final line of each stanza where the iambic tetrameter is broken and there is instead a monosyllabic trimeter. This confuses the lyrical rhythm of the poem which causes it to have a slightly disjointed tone. The abrupt cessation of the line also seems to echo the knights sudden awakening to loneliness, and alerts the reader to the fact that his lifes end is nigh. In a traditional...

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