Tag: la belle dame sans merci

Quote of the Day: “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”


She’s the ultimate femme fatale. And it’s one of the oldest stories in the world. The Beautiful Lady Without Pity. The subject of my second-favorite poem by John Keats, which was written 200 years ago, when Keats was just 23.

It’s his reworking of a 15th-century French poem of 800 lines, telling a complex story of love and loss. Keats throws out all the extraneous characters and globetrotting excesses of the original, boiling it down to a 48-line tale of one bewitched Knight, one beautiful Lady (without pity) and one withery, sedgy marsh where our bewildered hero is dumped by the Lady, after a night (one hopes) of ecstasy in her “Elfin grot.”

There’s also a neutral observer who kicks things off in the first three stanzas by asking the poor guy why he’s wandering around, alone and in such a funk, wearing a (probably metaphorical) bunch of flowers on his head. The rest of the poem is taken up by the Knight’s response. (The lily and the rose, by the way, represent the two complementary aspects of femininity–the lily representing the pure and virginal aspects of the Lady, and the red rose representing the earthy, passionate aspects of her character. They’re also used here as metaphors for the Knight’s pale, sweaty forehead, and the fast-fading flush of passion in his cheeks.)