John Keat’s “La Belle Dame”In “La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad,” John Keats, the author, relates
feelings of heartache to the reader by using metaphors of somberness and sorrow.
The poem is set around a knights story of how his heart had been broken when
he was left by a woman whom he had recently fell in love with. The woman, an
apparent succubus, comes to the knight in what seems to be some variation of a
dream, and makes love to him. A succubus is known as a demon female evil spirit
that comes to Earth and has sexual intercourse with men while they sleep. The
knight tells of how they met, their brief courtship and intervening period, and
ultimately the end of their erotic episode. Keats uses metaphors to elude to
acts of sexuality throughout the entire ballad. At the beginning Keats writes of
how a passerby stops to ask a knight why he is walking around so sad and dismal.
He tells the knight that he looks pale and flushed as if he had been sweating.
The passing stranger wants to know what could be troubling the knight, and what
could have him wandering around the edge of the lake in the dead of winter
looking so pale and distraught. The knight begins his tale by describing to his
listener that he once met a beautiful lady in the meadow. He speaks of how she
had long flowing hair, a tall, thin body, and strange eyes, which seemed to have
a wild, wild look about them. He exclaims that she must have been the child of a
fairy. When they met he made gifts for her, which he crafted from vines and
flowers. They included a garland for her head, bracelets for her wrists, and a
belt for her to wear around her waist, near her “fragrant zone.” Keats uses
the term “fragrant zone” to symbolize this womans sensuality. He refers
to this area as being a region which gives forth a seemingly sweet aroma. After
the reception of these gifts, the knight and the evil temptress began to kiss
and to caress each other. Then the sultry spirit passionately moaned as the he
set her atop of his “pacing steed,” and they began making love. Their sexual
episode stretched over the length of the entire day. They would frequently
change positions as she repeated her “fairys song” of orgasmic pleasure.
When the erotic session came to an end, the succubus showed her deceptiveness as
she replenished the knight with wild fruits and sweet roots of relish, as if she
too were experiencing the irrepressible feelings of affection. She took him to
her “elfin grot,” and fraudulently wept to him of her sorrows. He gave his
best endeavor to comfort her. As they lied upon the hillside, the knight fell
off into a seemingly nefarious trance as the lady began to sing to him a
beautiful song which set his mind at ease so he would drift off to sleep. The
knight tells of the thoughts he had while he lie dreaming on that cold hillside.
He said he saw kings, princes, and warriors alike. All were wandering aimlessly,
looking distraught and pale. They would cry out, “La bele dame sans merci hath
thee in thrall!” Which in translation means, the lovely lady without pity has
enslaved thee. What they meant by that was that they too had once been lead
astray by the female demon spirit, known as the succubus. When the knight awoke
he found himself lying on the cold hillside alone. His lady of the meadow was
now gone, and with her she took the poor knights soul. She left him with
nothing other than a feeling of complete emptiness that has haunted him to this
day. That could be why the poor knight walks “alone, palely loitering, though
the sedge is witherd from the lake, and no birds sing.” Suc-cu-bus ..noun
1. A female demon that was said to descend upon and have sexual intercourse with
a man while he is sleeping.