La Belle Dame sans Merci

La Belle Dame sans Merci Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Flowers (Motif)

Flowers are repeatedly mentioned throughout the poem, both as symbols of virtue and sexuality, and as gifts expressing sexual desire. Early in the poem, a lily and a fading rose are used to describe the knight's complexion, establishing a tension between pure and erotic love. When he met the lady in the meadows, he made her flower garlands and bracelets, hoping to gain her favor. The multiple meanings attached to this imagery correspond to the poem's complex psychological underpinnings: the men who fall beneath the woman's spell—kings, princes, knights, warriors—are caught between their chivalrous honor and their intense erotic desire for the lady. By allowing both interpretations to exist side by side, Keats keeps the tensions alive.

Paleness (Symbol)

All of the men who fall beneath the woman's spell are pale and weary, suggesting illness or a loss of vitality. At the same time, the lily—a white flower with a powerful symbolic history—upon the knight's brow indicates his purity, virtue, and chivalrous honor. The paleness of the men in the knight's dream could also express fear: the absence of color in their face reflects the horror of being trapped upon the hillside by the woman's charms, stuck somewhere been nightmare and reality.

Lily (Symbol)

In a biblical tradition, the lily is commonly associated with the ideas of purity and innocence. By alluding to the purity of the lily, the speaker lets us know that the knight appears to retain his honor in spite of his poor state. It could also allude to innocence or ignorance, meaning the knight may not fully believe that he was tricked by the woman, believing he may come across her love again some day. Finally, given that lilies are often used at funerals (to signify the purity of the soul of the deceased), the lily may allude to the death-like state in which the knight wanders.