April 15, 2021

#08-071: La Belle Dame sans Merci

opulent painting of a woman seated in a garden-like setting, clutching a scarf around the neck of a man dressed as a knight, as they gaze into each others' eyes and seem about to kiss
La Belle Dame sans Merci

Note: Read about John Keat's ghostly poem of a knight's love for a "faery's child," and the dire results it brought him.

Get Ready: Would you be willing to die for some "peak experience," whether romantic or otherwise?

Few poets have captured the public's imagination like John Keats. Aside from the romantic style and content of his work, his very life embodied the "Romantic ideal" in that he died of "consumption"--a poetic-sounding name for the deadly tuberculosis--at the young age of 25, in Rome. He is buried there under a tombstone which, at his request, has no name or date, but reads in part: "Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water."

His best-known poems include "Ode to a Nightingale" and the sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." For sheer evocative, power, though, nothing for me beats the short ballad, "La Belle Dame sans Merci."

The poem begins with an unknown speaker asking a knight in the first three stanzas why he is ill: "O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms"? He describes the knight as having a pale, moist brow, with the color fading in his cheeks. He ties this obliquely to summer being past, with phrases like "no birds sing" and "the harvest's done"--obvious metaphors for the approach of death.

The knight answers by telling a story. While riding in the meadows, he met a lady, a "faery's child" in fact, with long hair and wild eyes. He adorned her head, wrists, and waist in garlands of flowers, and she repaid him with a look and a moan of love.

He took her up on his horse's back and off they rode, while she sang "A faery's song." She brought him edible roots, wild honey, and "manna-dew"--a supernatural food mentioned in the Bible--and told him, "I love thee true."

At last, they entered her fairy grotto, and he "shut her wild wild eyes / With kisses four." She lulled him to sleep, and he dreamed his last-ever dream: "pale kings and princes" passed, and out of their ghastly mouths cried to him: "La Belle Dame sans Merci / Thee hath in thrall!" This means, "The beautiful lady without pity has cast a spell on you!"

He woke on the side of a cold hill, knowing that he would pay for the pleasure of her company with his own death. "And this is why I sojourn here," he ended, "Alone and palely loitering, / Though the sedge is withered from the lake, / And no birds sing."


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Belle_Dame_sans_Merci

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. edible
  2. evocative
  3. garlands
  4. ghastly
  5. obliquely
  6. sedge
  7. sojourn
  8. tuberculosis
  9. withered
  10. writ

  1. indirectly
  2. strings (of flowers)
  3. able to be eaten
  4. written
  5. stay temporarily
  6. shriveled; decayed
  7. dreadful; resembling a ghost
  8. a deadly, contagious lung disease
  9. a grass-like plant that grows in wetlands
  10. calling forth feelings

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 15, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. j; 3. b; 4. g; 5. a; 6. i; 7. e; 8. h; . f; 10. d