Poetry Analysis: La belle Dame sans Merci- John Keats.

16 Jan

La Belle Dame sans Merci, one of John Keats last works, is a ballad which tells the story of a knight who fell in love with a mystical creature, and now suffers the aftermath of a broken heart.

The poem starts with the poet finding a solitary knight stumbling around the countryside. The scene of autumn is described: No grass grows on the river banks, the chirping birds are absent, squirrels and other animals have hoarded food to sustain them throughout winter, and the harvest season is over. The poet wonders what sickness has gripped the knight, making him look so exhausted and miserable. He seems to be in a terrible condition: the color is fast fading from his cheeks and his forehead glistens with sweat, contrasting with his increasing pallor. An aura of mystery surrounds the scene, and one cannot help but wonder what a knight, a man used to action and surviving in harsh conditions, is doing walking aimlessly around the moor, and what is it that has befallen him to reduce him to such a pitiful state.
With the fourth stanza the knight starts to tell his tale: He had met a beautiful maiden in the meadows. She was the most beautiful thing he had cast eyes upon, with long flowing hair and a soft unearthly grace which led him to believe that she must be a fairy treading the earth. Her eyes however had struck him as sad and doleful as if she was mourning something.
He tells the poet how she joined him on his horse and they rode together. He had eyes only for her and did not notice anything else, for she was receptive of his attentions and sang to him sweetly. He tried to woo her by making garlands and bracelets out of flowers and she gazed at him lovingly, giving him delectable things to eat such as sweet roots and wild honey. She spoke in a different dialect yet he was sure that she told him that she loved him with all her heart.
The sense of suspense and mystery is further elevated in the reader by now: although one had expected a lady to feature prominently in the Knight’s endeavors, it was not common practice for upper class ladies to be wandering around the countryside without an escort, and be as forthcoming and immodest as to sing and moan to a stranger whom she has just met. Who is this woman and where did she come from?
Some questions are answered when the knight mentions that the lady then took him to her elfin grot, and the reader realizes that the lady is an actual fairy, a supernatural being that the knight has fallen in love with. The knight remembers that she looked at him sadly as he kissed her wild troubled eyes to sleep. As they slept together on the hill side, the knight had a dream: he saw the deathly visions of kings, princes and warriors, with gnarled lips and ghastly figures. They all cried out to him, warning him that the lady has no mercy and he is in her trap now as well. That is when he awoke and found himself alone and on the verge of death, without any sign on his lover in sight. He has been wandering the land ever since, hoping either for his lady to return or for death to embrace him.

Thus the knight’s story comes to an end and his state of depression and sickness is explained: he has fallen victim to a lover’s betrayal and abandonment. But the lady remains still an enigma, both to the poet and the reader. Though on first look, the woman appears to be the classic example of the attention seeking selfish lady who mercilessly leads unwary young men to believe that she loves them and then deserts them, alone in their grief. But on deeper study it’s found that there’s a lot more to her character: her eyes are sad and wild, her sighs sorrowful and her gaze mournful. Could it be that she is as unfortunate as her victims, bound by fate to travel the earth and fall in love with mortals again and again only to have to desert them as they could not be her match? The beauty of the story is that this question remains forever unanswered; one can derive one’s own analysis about her, but never know for sure who she really was.

Other than the constant creation of suspense and the thick aura of mystery which drapes the ballad and its characters, Keats has also used other figures of speech to further intensify the exquisiteness of his poems. In relating the sickness of the knight he compared he metaphorically describes his pale complexion as a ‘lily on his brow’ and his fading color as a ‘fast withering rose.’ The first few stanzas are also rich with imagery as the poet draws the autumn scene of the desolate and lonely moors and the solitary knight in the reader’s head.
The most basic ‘moral’ of this story of woe is the dangers of heady, passionate love in which one can get carried away and the imminent heart break which follows every such transient affair. The knight was too impulsive in falling head over heels for a strange woman, and he had to pay the price for his impetuosity.
However, one could also argue that Keats wrote this poem as a dedicated tribute to absolute beauty. The knight had no desire to live on after once finding and losing the epitome of beauty in the lovely enchantress. Materialistic beauty is captivating yet ephemeral, and every being that strives to find it, has to be prepared for losing it too, that is the revenge of time. Those who fail to realize that soon find out that no meaning remains in anything else afterwards.
Another quite somber interpretation of the poem is that it shows the outcome of every idealist romantic who believes in true and eternal love, casting a harsh light on the fact, that love is, no matter how pure, never immortal. It cannot last forever and has to eventually bow down before either time or death.

This poem is, not unlike most of Keats’s work, a personal favorite both for being gorgeous in its language and story, and thought provoking in its poetical philosophy.


Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Analysis of Poems.



30 responses to “Poetry Analysis: La belle Dame sans Merci- John Keats.

  1. jasmine

    June 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    who ever wrote this i need ur email so u can help me pleasee !!

    • zadid

      May 17, 2014 at 10:10 am

      awesome…. its really helpful…..

    • zadid

      May 17, 2014 at 10:12 am

      where u studying…

  2. Fresse Schnauze

    September 25, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Good analyses, you really helped me, thanks… 🙂

  3. Vaishnavi

    October 14, 2012 at 11:44 am

    perfect analyses

  4. Safwan Kabeer

    October 25, 2012 at 12:36 am


  5. Gibbs

    November 16, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    A very good analysis, but like most poems from Keats, I think it is deliberately left to the reader to figure out. Once you’ve understood the meaning of what he is getting across, like this and other good analysis will help with; I think it is imperative to take something from it within yourself not to take it at face value. For example when I first read this poem I thought it was a tragedy almost in the Romeo and Juliet form: the poet meets a dying knight in a desolate place & he tells the poet about this enchanting beauty that he has met, loved and lost. I’ve even seen people describe the elfin beauty as quite literally a fairy creature, an angel of death, or even a vampire. For me later on after many years coming across this poem again I come off with a new view and for me (And my point is that this is a perfect good analysis presented here, and that my view on it is just that. The result of what it means to me.) it means this: Its a powerful influence of what love is and that is doesn’t matter what you love or who you love. It is important that you understand that you have the capability for it and one day it will strike us all. Even if like the knight it is in throngs of death, whether he is dillusional, remebering a past love, or if he has seen demon or angel inviting him to death. The beauty is that we don’t know what the knight really meant, because it ends suddenly with not more commentary after the knight explains, so is he endlessly wandering? Did he die? Or is this dillusion of the poet himself? I think that is why it has a poerful meaning to me. And your take on it, I actually never really saw it that way but I think its a beautiful take on it and would make a great play or story based on you analysis actually.

    • josh

      April 2, 2014 at 2:41 pm


    • H. Rehman

      November 1, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      This is an excellent take on the poem sir. As I have come to realize now I favor ‘soft’ interpretitions of certain kinds of poems. La Belle is definitely one of those poems. Your ideas about the poem being about the influence of love itself are certainly very Keats-like. It is a refreshingly abstract interpretition of a poem I always thought was a typical romantic ballad. Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts.

  6. Jamila

    December 8, 2012 at 9:35 am

    It is a wonderful poem but what I want to put your opinion about this poem

  7. Bazinga

    March 16, 2013 at 11:57 am

    (Y) really good analysis, appreciate it !

  8. ichaL

    June 24, 2013 at 7:52 am

    great analysis. Will be greater if I know who has written this.

    • josh

      April 2, 2014 at 2:42 pm


  9. echan ningthoujam

    July 14, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    its really helpful…ur picking up of words is too good thanx

  10. anujayaprakash (@anujayaprakash2)

    August 2, 2013 at 9:13 am

    good analysis, really useful

  11. meenakshi

    September 6, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    It is excellent and was very helpful 🙂

  12. Mily

    October 8, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Great Analyses

  13. alinamarypius

    November 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    really great ……….helped me a lot in enjoying the beautiful poem.

  14. Sachi

    November 29, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    THANK YOU SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!! I always come to litxpert for any help on my literature work. Thanks again 🙂 you have helped me for more than 3 years now 🙂 🙂 🙂 LOVE YA!!!!!

  15. prajjwal

    March 1, 2014 at 6:17 am

    hats really helped me 🙂

  16. Priyanka Chopra

    March 8, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    This is really great. I got so much help. Thank you!!

  17. ishan

    April 2, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    very good annalysis it helped me a lot thanx

  18. azam

    April 23, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    thanks so much!!!!!!

  19. emma

    June 12, 2014 at 10:38 am

    i really would like some assistance just email me just an email if possible thank you it is a question about my year 10 coursework.

    • har33m

      June 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      The address has been mailed to you.

  20. Andrew Stone

    August 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm

  21. shubha hiremath

    December 30, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    i appreciate this analysis of the poem of keats and of course it’s brilliant but at the same time, we can enjoy poems by thinking beyond the poet. Thank u very much.

  22. Professor Dragonfly

    October 14, 2015 at 9:59 am

    This is a quite thorough summary with interesting insights into the interpretive meanings. They are quite ponderable. The statement that its open to the reader and this is the beauty of the poem is a kind idea, but then the same could be argued about every poem or text. What readings can the poem sustain? And what is the relationship between those readings?
    In a crucial sense, the poem warrants and sustains more comment as a lament for the muse’s potential abandonment, or worse, the delusional possibility of all poetry, which is also to say all meaning. Plenty of links to lips and mouths and noise – or noiselessness: no birds sing; lips of kings et al; and also vision – the knight seeing the lady and this fairy land; then all disappears and the knight (presumably, though who is speaking when is a bit unclear). In fact, there’s an interesting crossing of senses going on in the lips kissing eyes – vision and sound (a la lips, kiss, mouth – speaking). Are the lips of the knight closing the eyes of the fairy? Or, do the words the poet speaks close the vision of the muse? In the end, the cold, winters scene serves as the death of meaning – akin to Wallace Stevens’ reduction to the first idea/plain sense of things – somewhat paradoxical for its simultaneous pathos and trope as meaninglessness.


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