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La Belle Dame Sans Merci To Autumn

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2403 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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I have chosen to compare these two poems both written by Keats. Keats was only 26 years old when he died, and wrote ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ just three years before this. He died of tuberculosis along with his mother and brother. His brother passed away in 1919, a year after both poems were written, indicating that the poems may have some significance to Keats’s feelings and emotions in both poems.

To Autumn is a poem celebrating the beauty of nature in the season of autumn. It is a very sensuous poem with lots of strong imagery.

In “To Autumn” there is a very regular iambic pentameter rhyme scheme and there are three stanzas each eleven lines long. The regular rhyme scheme contributes to the calmness and serenity of the poem and highlights the poem’s ode like qualities, with nothing but praise for the different aspects of the season. By contrast La Belle Dame Sans merci is a narrative poem written in ballad quatrains, which are all rhyming couplets, It also has a lot more stanzas that have fewer lines. This cuts off the regularity and the harmonious feel is broken unlike in “To Autumn. Another way Keats splits up the rhythm is by using caesura (he uses a lot of dashes which create pauses and breaks in his work.

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From the start of “To Autumn” we see “mists and mellow” and “fill all fruit” These two pieces of alliteration in the first stanza help the poem sound appealing and run smoothly of the tongue. Perhaps the sound made when reciting “mists and mellow” could be likened to bees buzzing which would be a great way of Keats incorporating nature into a poem about nature.

In the second stanza the rhetorical question “Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?” is asked, helping to engage the reader and makes them think about nature. I think there is a change in tone in the second stanza from the from first. In the first we are given images of wonderful fullness that nature is bringing to objects such as “fill all fruit with ripeness to the core” and “plump the hazel shells”. These create a sense of achievement and perfectness being instilled into objects in nature and create a proud and triumphant mood.

However in the second stanza the mood is that of a slow moving and relaxed one. The words “drows’d” and “sound asleep” are used which are related to relaxation and the phrase “sitting careless on a granary floor” is used, suggesting there is no rush about things, again relating to the overall slow moving mood of this stanza. “thy soft hair lifted by a winnowing wind” is a nice phrase using personification (winnowing wind) to add to the relaxing feeling the poet is trying to convey. Another word that cements the slow moving tone is “oozing” which keats uses to describe cider being pressed

The third stanza lists some of the the sounds of nature, but describes them in a bounteous and praising way. “Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn” is a line that demonstrates how keats can turn something normally overlooked into something that catches your attention and makes you appreciative about it. He does this by describing the gnats as a choir, a group that represents disciplined order and talent. He describes them as a wailful and says that they mourn, by describing them as having so much emotion it helps us to realise that they are complex and are purposeful. Keats also uses an interesting juxtaposition “soft dying” on the third line of this stanza to describe the day, soft suggests calm and gentleness, however death is the imminent end.

I think Keats wants us to appreciate the sheer beauty of nature in this poem, and his intention is to make us believe as strongly as possible that this beauty around us is not to be taken for granted. In my mind he has instilled a strong representation of his perception of nature. I think hes done this by using such great visual and descriptive imagery as well as appealing to the senses. In this poem we are bombarded with reference to on sense or another and in the 3 stanzas every one of the five senses are mentioned, “clammy cells” instantly remind you of touch whereas the “fume of poppies” draws you to imagine the smell in your own head, all the references to these senses build a stronger picture in your head of the painting Keats is trying to paint.

Keats creates strong imagery in this ballad and focuses on every sense, we have sound- “they cried”and “sweet moan”, taste – “sweet relish”, smell “fragrant zone” and a passage that brilliantly describes the woman’s beauty – “Full beautiful-a faery’s child, Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild” this creates a perfect image of the woman’s beauty, perhaps the fact she is a faery’s child heightens her good looks as this image could not be achieved by a normal human being.

Keats uses the metaphor “on thy cheeks a fading rose”, this uses flowers (bringing nature into it) to show how his cheeks are rosy, but are fading just like a rose, this could mean that the life is draining from the man. “i see a lily on thy brow” is another metaphor that brings attention to his pale forehead through the use of flowers. As the narrator is using these terms about the knight it could bring a clue to his personality, someone fond of nature perhaps? Throughout the ballad we see countless examples of the word wild being used, “eyes were wild”, “i shut her wild, wild eyes” and “honey wild” this repetition shows the relation or association the poet wants to give the poem to nature.

In this poem nature reflects the position of the knight, however in “To Autumn” nature is personified in a much more positive way and Autumn is personified as being “close bosom-friend of the maturing sun” which shows it’s friendliness in that it is conspiring with the sun. The metaphor “sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep” is used and Autumn is also personified to have “thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind” and to be someone who “watchest the last oozings hours by hours”. In-fact the whole second stanza is an extended personification of Autumn carrying out relaxing activities related to the relaxing nature of the season.

The tone of this poem is very lifeless with a very gloomy atmosphere, the knight is described as being haggard which shows tiredness and he is “palely loitering” which shows he has no purpose about him or what he will do, this women has made his life worthless with no path. The landscape is barron and possibly the season of winter as “no birds sing”. Authenticity of a medieval timezone is also added by old fashioned spellings such as “faery” instead of fairy.

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As we know, both poems are about nature although the way in which all life has been sucked out of the knight shown by the description that he is “palely loitering” and how Keats shows the bleakness and cold of the situation by describing warriors as “death pale” with “starved lips”. He also describes the scenery as “cold” and “the sedge is withered from the lake”. This desolate and isolated feel is in complete contrast the way the surrounding in “To Autumn” is teaming with life and fruit is filled with “ripeness to the core”. With everything reaching it’s full potential with the help from the seasons. An example of this is the way that he writes that “summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells”. To Autumn” has much more praise and descriptions of the beauty of nature.

In “The Belle Dame Sans Merci” I think Keats’ intentions are to show perhaps how the naivety of falling into love could end with such undesirable consequences with no way out(especially when they don’t love you as much as you love them). In the poem the knight’s disappointment would be less severe if he did not believe from the beginning of their affair that the fairy child loved him in equal measure. She appears to fall in love with the knight just as he is falling for her. The look she gives him in line 19 and her “sweet moan” might be read as signs of her love, and the presents she gives him are further proof they are equally balanced in their feelings for one another. She even takes him back to her home, her “elfin grot,” and makes him feel comfortable. It would be natural for him to assume she is as interested as he is in continuing their relationship when he awakes. However you can’t be sure the knight’s intense feeling when he finds his lady gone is caused primarily by the loss of her. It could be that he is suffering from the disappointing conclusion that she never really loved him as much as he thought she did. By the end of the poem he clearly feels alone, but he does not show any hatred toward her. The only clues the poem gives about whether or not the lady may have felt love for the knight come from the people who visit the knight in his dream and tell him the lady is pitiless, that she has no mercy, Them coming to him also suggest she has done it do them before and he is another person to have fallen into her cruel trap.

To Autumn is an example of an Ode as it is addressed to somebody and written in stanzas. La Belle Dame Sans Merci apart from the obvious difference of a French title contains all the necessary elements of a Ballad; it is a quatrain with the second and fourth line of each stanza rhyming and has much shorter lines. Also Autumn is written as an address to a season while La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a dialogue.

A similarity is that the two poems share a common setting, this being autumn. As well as the giveaway from the title in To Autumn Keats writes about the landscape – “With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run” and “…still more, later flowers for the bees”, two extracts from the first stanza which describe Autumn. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci also in the first stanza it says “The sedge has wither’d from the lake” which is an scenario that happens in autumn.

Another common feature is the poems sensuality, as both use descriptions relating to all the senses. This is integral to the atmosphere as the sensuality makes the setting and events so much more authentic in the readers mind. This nature and sensuality are very closely linked in both poems, everything to do with the senses is natural. However there is a difference in the way nature is referred to in La Belle Dame Sans Merci. because there is a peripeteia, the faery who is most natural thing in the ballad and who has given the knight so much pleasure sucks the life from him when he least expects it “And there she lulled me asleep”. The faery that has seemed to give life and personify nature is the same one that took away life from the knight.

There are also many contrasts between the two poems of Keats. The tone of the poems are very different. To Autumn is rich, positive, happy and praising the goodness of life and nature. La Belle Dame Sans Merci is enchanted however very sad and desolate. To Autumn is full of long wholesome words with many syllables exaggerating the fulness, like “fruitfulness”, “winnowing” and “conspiring”. As well as these Keats uses hyphenated words – “bosom-friend”, “soft-lifted” and “half-reap’d”. These words add to the rich feelings and complex structure of the poem and break the rhythm up as I said earlier. La Belle Dame Sans Merci is written in a much simpler direct way using many short monosyllabic words – “And no birds sing” or “And her eyes were wild”. This makes the poem very sharp and harsh, with to the point phrases. When you read To Autumn it has to be read slowly to savour the bountiful description Keats is creating, but La Belle Dame Sans can be read quickly to keep up with the pace of the story being told.

In “To Autumn” throughout the poem the season is gradually changing.”The bees think warm days will never cease for summer has o’evbrimm’d their clammy cells” indicates there are still some characteristics left of summer, but later on in the poem it says that “the red breast whistles from a garden croft, indicating the arrival of winter. This movement through the season is relaxed and will repeat every year. This could relate to how Keats was aware of his oncoming death but was calm and accepting of it, shown in the relaxed feel of this poem. Perhaps Keats’ ballad was an opposite point of view, showing how he felt he was trapped in a place and loitering until his death?

Or maybe the two poems could both indicate different things in his life. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci The poem itself could be a metaphor for events in Keats’ own life. Keats had recently lost a brother to tuberculosis and he himself was. “…a lily on thy brow” and “…on thy cheeks a fading rose”, both these lines could be interpreted as symptoms for the disease. “La Belle Dame” may (or may not) be referring to a woman Keats met who distracted him, from his vocation, and as he was in such a bad state she could be wasting what little time left he had on the word. Autumn could then be some of his work she was distracting him from, the work praising the world and drawing attention to the beauty that was appreciated by him as he knew he would miss it so much.

In conclusion the two different styles of writing poetry (the Ode and Ballad) which would normally be so different are made similar in many ways by what Keats has added to them, he has added his touch and it is these personal features that run through both poems which links them and makes them exciting.


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