La Belle Dame sans Merci Essay Questions

Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the relationship between the poem’s setting and its tone?

    The poem is set during the autumn season and the tone is obsessed with the concept of death. One particular image from the poem that effectively sets the stage of the connection between mood and background is the observation that not even a bird remains to sing. The autumnal stage upon which the narrative plays out is filled with details that underline the overarching themes related to decay and dissolution.

  2. 2

    The knight falls in love with a fairy and things don’t go well. What are some other examples of such doomed love affairs?

    If La Belle Dame sans Merci teaches anything, it is that mortals should most definitely not fall in love with other species. The knight falls for a fairy and is almost instantly doomed. Clearly, this is one knight who did not familiarize himself with the ancient myth of the mortal Psyche making the same mistake when she fell hard for Cupid himself. Keats adds to the long list of mythic cautionary tales against the likelihood of this type of relationship meeting success on its own terms. The fairy in the poem is little different from the Little Mermaid herself, even in the Disney version which requires certain questionable vicissitudes to guarantee the happy ending which is denied the Keats’ knight.

  3. 3

    How could this poem be interpreted as autobiographical on the part of John Keats?

    John Keats died a long, slow death by tuberculosis which is a health condition that essentially causes the body to slowly decay. That image mentioned above the bird no longer around to sing combined with others touching upon a completed harvest and a cold hillside could all be interpreted as metaphors for that agonizing death by decay more literately inscribed by its archaic term of consumption. More pointed is the imagery devoted to the knight’s sickly physical appearance such as the fading rose in his cheek and the paleness conveyed by the lily on his brow.

  4. 4

    What clues are provided by Keats that the entire experience may actually just be a figment of the knight’s imagination and do these clues change the meaning?

    The knight is described in various ways that are indicative of his being in a very sickly state. That state of health may be responsible for such unlikely unrealistic aspects as the appearance of a faery. Then there is the fact that the faery feeds him food like manna which is resonant of the Biblical mythology. Combined with her exotic language and her home that is described as an elfin grot and there is much in the poem suggestive of the interpretation that everything that happens is merely some sort of fever dream of the sick knight. Regardless of whether the events described actually happened external to the knight’s consciousness or solely within it, however, the meaning remains intact because the knight believes it to be real.

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