How Does Keats Tell the Story of La Belle Dame Sans Merci?

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Keats uses many methods to tell the story in his poem ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’. The story is first hinted at in the title, which translates as ‘The beautiful woman without mercy’. For those who know of Keats’ background, it is easy to assosiate this poem with his instinctive distrust of women. Keats’ mother abandoned him in 1806, and these feelings of neglect influenced his poetry heavily, as he writes of women trapping men for their own gains rather than out of love. This is also visible in this poem, such as when Keats refers to a ‘garland’ and ‘bracelets’, both of which are circular in shape. Because of this, and that they are therefore unbreaking and of a similar shape to handcuffs, they could be a metaphor for entrapment, as well as the Belle Dame’s treatment of men, which is a constant cycle. This metaphor is portrayed more clearly in stanza 10; ‘They cried- La Belle Dame sans Merci Thee hath in thrall!’. Keats portrays women as cunning creatures who toy with men and use them.

The title also links the poem to Alain Chartier’s poem, and relates to traubadeurs-men who used to court married women who were unattainable, much like the Belle Dame described in Keats’ poem. Both of these things link ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci to the medieval era, and this is continued throughout the poem, as Keats uses a lot of archaic language, such as ‘faery’ ‘thee’ and ‘hath’, suggesting that the poem itself is set in medieval times. This specific period was of great interest to romantic poets, such as Keats. There are subtle references to the season in the poem, which would support the theory that stanzas three to eleven are a dream, and the rest are reality, as in reality, the description suggests it is winter; ‘The squirrel’s granary is full, And the harvest’s done.’ and winter is associated with cold, unhappiness and possibly lonliness. In the dream, the language indicates that it is spring; ‘fading rose’, ‘honey wild’. Spring brings to mind images of warmth, happiness...
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