La Belle Dame sans Merci

La Belle Dame sans Merci Summary and Analysis of lines 13 - 36


In stanza four, the knight begins to recount his experience on the hillside. He describes the beautiful woman he met in the meadows, and the way he quickly fell for her charms. After making love, the couple ride away on the speaker's horse, and the woman sings to him a 'faery's song'. They stop briefly, and she feeds him honey and manna, claiming she loves him in her own, strange tongue. When they reach her hiding place—an "Elfin grot"—the woman starts to weep, and the knight kisses her eyelids. Then, the knight falls into a deep sleep, dreaming wildly on the cold hillside.


We learn that the knight was enchanted by the woman, and that his experience with her caused his poor state. He compares her to “a faery’s child,” suggesting that she possessed a supernatural charm. Her “wild” eyes indicate her sexual appeal and desire. The garland and bracelets that he makes for the woman indicate his own desire, while the woman’s looks and moans let us know that their brief relationship was, indeed, erotic. However, the woman's supernatural characteristics suggest that, for the knight, the love he found may be too good to be true.

In stanzas four and five, the knight appears to occupy a position of power in the relationship, in spite of the woman’s charms. He gives her gifts and sets her on his horse, and the couple rides away. However, in stanza six, the situation reverses: the woman feeds him honey and manna, expressing her love, and then brings him to her home. When the knight kisses her eyelids, the woman lulls him to sleep, bringing woeful, foreboding nightmares. The knight's act of love becomes the cause of his pain, in spite of the affair's pleasure.

The first half of the knight's story creates a complex picture of the woman: she is a femme fatale with a supernatural ability to seduce the men who cross her path. Her "faery-like" characteristics, as well as the knights, kings, and princes who populate the poem, look back to a medieval poetic tradition. Keats draws upon these references and modernizes them through his explicit juxtaposition of sexual liberation and the courtly tradition. What will happen in his dream, and what will the horrific sights he sees tell him about the woman's true nature?