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(Solved) SELECTED ESSAYS AND SQUIBS BY JOSEPH SUGLIA HOME DR. JOSEPH SUGLIA June 23, 2015 by Dr. Joseph Suglia KEATS AND THE POWER OF THE NEGATIVE: PART ONE:...


Keats' "La Belle dame sans Merci"- Discuss your agreements and disagreements with the Keats lecture. 

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SELECTED ESSAYS AND SQUIBS BY JOSEPH SUGLIA
HOME DR. JOSEPH SUGLIA June 23, 2015 by Dr. Joseph Suglia KEATS AND THE POWER OF THE
NEGATIVE: PART ONE: “LA BELLE
DAME SANS MERCI”: A COMMENTARY
Dr. Joseph Suglia: THE BEST INTERVIEW Keats and the Power of the Negative: Part One
An analysis of “La Belle Dame sans Merci” by Dr. Joseph Suglia
Dedicated to C.S.
Composed on April 21, 1819, in a single afternoon or early evening, “La Belle
Dame sans Merci” has haunted the minds of readers for almost two centuries
now. In twelve stanzas, Keats says more than whole worships of writers say in
their entire existence. The poem is so sleekly, treacily, and elegantly composed,
without a single false word, that it is imperishable. Indeed, it is one of the few
perfect English poems.
I will analyze the ballad stanza by stanza.
O what can ail thee, knight­at­arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has wither’d from the lake, And no birds sing.
The question is the narrator’s—whoever the narrator might be—to the honey­
starved knight. For the published edition, Keats foolishly substituted the words
“wretched wight” for “knight­at­arms.” “Wight” recalls the Isle of Wight, where
Keats would write lust letters to Fanny Brawne, the lust of his brief
consumptive life, which makes the published text of the poem faintly ludicrous.
“Knight­at­arms” is a much better choice of words, since it invokes strength,
which contrasts nicely with the knight’s ailment, which is clearly love­
psychosis. It also sounds and reads better, infinitely better, than “wretched
wight.”
The narrator is asking an epidemiological question (when one compares the
first stanza with the twelfth): What is the source of your illness? Even though
the autumnal landscape is withered and songless, the knight is loitering around
like a beggar. The flora are desiccated, much like the knight; there are no fauna, it seems, in the expanse. Nature has dried and shriveled up. The birds
that are not there are perhaps nightingales. If this is the case, then the
supernatural has withdrawn from the deathscape.
A nice instance of parechesis appears in the first stanza—a repetition of the
grapheme LON in the words “alone” and “loitering.”
O what can ail thee, knight­at­arms, So haggard and so woe­begone? The squirrel’s granary is full, And the harvest’s done.
The granaries and the harvest have yielded a superabundance of food — food
that is suitable for human consumption — but the knight will never eat it. He
will never eat the food because he cannot eat the food. The knight is famished,
starving for food that no human mouth can eat: It is the food that only his
beloved faery princess can feed him.
I see a lily on thy brow, With anguish moist and fever­dew, And on thy cheeks a fading rose Fast withereth too.
The syntax here is confusing: The lily that is embroidered on the knight’s brow
is moist with anguish and moist with fever­dew. The anguish­moist lily and
the fading rose embroidered on the knight’s face­flesh: These are symptoms of
his love­starvation.
I met a lady in the meads, Full beautiful—a faery’s child, Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild. This is where the knight’s answer begins—an answer to the question, “What
ails thee?” Already, the reader is getting subliminal cues from the poem that
the knight should run like hell away from the faery princess. For one, she is the
daughter of a faery and therefore any romance between the knight and the
princess would be an interspecies romance. Secondly, the wildness of her eyes
might very well be the wildness of craziness.
I made a garland for her head, And bracelets too, and fragrant zone; She looked at me as she did love, And made sweet moan.
The number three is important in the poem: The faery princess’s physical
attributes come in threes (her long hair, her light foot, her wild eyes), the food
that she feeds to the knight comes in threes (relish root, wild honey, manna­
dew), and here we have a triumvirate of decorations for the Beautiful Lady to
wear (garland, bracelets, perfumed belt). We might know three of her physical
attributes and three things that she is wearing, but who is she, really, on the
inside?
I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long, For sidelong would she bend, and sing A faery’s song.
What kind of a knight is he, to let a woman he does not know ride his pacing
steed? And how can someone set someone else on a steed that is pacing? Her
sidelong look lets us know that she is unconcerned with him and that his love
will be unreturned; sharp readers should question the integrity of her
intentions. That he can see nothing else besides her radiance suggests that the
knight has already plunged into total lunacy. She found me roots of relish sweet, And honey wild, and manna­dew, And sure in language strange she said— ‘I love thee true’.
How, precisely, does the knight know that the faery princess has declared her
love for him? The answer is: He does not. Her words are inaudible to him. She
speaks in a language that he cannot understand, and the suggestion is that the
knight has projected his desire­to­be­loved upon her incomprehensible dark
words.
The fact that communication between the knight and the faery princess is
impossible intimates that contact between the knight and the faery princess is
impossible.
“Honey” is sensuous, but the manna­dew is ethereal, heavenly: bread that rains
from heaven. “Manna” is customarily a noun, but here, it is used as an adjective
and evokes, of course, The Book of Exodus.
“Manna­dew” was not in Keats’ original draft. The lines read, in the original
version: “She found me roots of relish sweet / And honey wild and honey dew.”
Keats was very wise to modify the wording. The manna­dew that she feeds the
knight reminds us that the faery princess is not a child of nature, but rather an
otherworldly entity, one who comes from a transcendental province, much like
the Grecian urn and the nightingale. She exists outside of time and is not
bound by the laws of nature.
The food that she feeds the knight is supernatural nutriment, and he will never
be able to eat anything else. All other food has become inesculent to him, even
though the granaries are full and the harvest is done. She took me to her elfin grot, And there she wept and sighed full sore, And there I shut her wild wild eyes With kisses four.
She dwells in an elfin grotto, then. If there is still any question on the subject,
at this point, the argument over whether she is human has been settled: She is
a chthonic being. The fact that she dwells in an elfin grotto might imply that
she is the Queen of Elphame, the elf queen who transported Thomas the
Rhymer into the otherworld.
Why is the elf­girl weeping and sighing? Is it because she knows that contact
between her and her human lover is impossible? If she is weeping and sighing
over the impossibility of interspecies romance,does this not militate against
the interpretation that she is wicked?
“Wild wild”: the use of anaphora (repetition) underlines her chaos, her
untrammeled nature. In Stanza Four, her eyes were described as “wild.” Her
eyes appear even wilder now.
And there she lulled me asleep, And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!— The latest dream I ever dreamt On the cold hill side.
The faery princess anesthetizes the knight, drugging him with Ketamine. “The
latest dream I ever dreamt”: The knight will never dream again. Will he ever
sleep again?
I saw pale kings and princes too, Pale warriors, death­pale were they all; They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci Hath thee in thrall!’
Listen to the chorus of love­hungry kings, love­hospitalized princes, and love­
hurt warriors. They tell you who they think the girl really is: The Beautiful Lady
without Pity! They are the ones who call her “The Beautiful Lady without Pity.”
She never identifies herself, nor does the narrator, nor does the love­
slaughtered knight at arms. Why, precisely, should you believe them? Why
should you believe the chorus of pallid loverboys?
The word “thrall” connotes enslavement. To be in thralldom is to be in bondage
to a master or a mistress. In this case, the chorus of once­powerful men, of
which the knight is now a member, is enslaved, enthralled, to the Beautiful
Lady without Pity.
I saw their starved lips in the gloam, With horrid warning gaped wide, And I awoke and found me here, On the cold hill’s side.
After the love­drug wears off, the knight awakens and finds himself in
desolation and a place of natural destitution. The only things in the dream­
men’s mouths are warnings. Much like the knight, only the food of the faery
girl can nourish them; no other food can sate them.
And this is why I sojourn here, Alone and palely loitering, Though the sedge is withered from the lake, And no birds sing.
The faery­intoxicated knight is doomed to walk along the withered shore of the
lake in a perpetual autumn, sapped of his vitality and potency. He has been enervated by the psychosis­inflicting Beautiful Lady without Pity. The poem
suggests that she is a witch, but she might as well be a lamia or a succubus. The
women in the Keatsean poetic universe are all Belles Dames sans Merci.
“Misogyny” is a label too easily applied these days, but how can we avoid
calling this a misogynistic poem?
Dr. Joseph Suglia
Postscript
There is yet another alternative interpretation that is possible: The figure of
the woman would be the vessel into which the misogynistic delusions of the
knight are projected, into the vacuum which stands for that which cannot be
symbolized. This evacuates the pallid, forlorn night. The figure of the female
has now become an agglomeration of split­off parts that represents him. The
figure is then a void to which the male is inexorably drawn and from which he
is driven in horror. Keats’s pallid, forlorn knight has an experience of horror
vacui.
The knight­at­arms would then have projected all of his disjecta membra into
the figure of the female, thus rendering himself as servile and exhausted.
In other words, the Beautiful Lady without Pity is a construction. What we
are left with is only the imaginary. This is, sadly, psychosis. It is all too
common. The poem might then be a descriptive instantiation of delusional
misogyny.
My only reservation with this alternative interpretation is that it is
ahistorical. Dr. Joseph Suglia: THE BEST INTERVIEW Advertisements Share this: Twitter Facebook Google Like
49 bloggers like this. Related I have never given a better
interview. Watch this interview.
THIS IS MY STRONGEST
INTERVIEW, BY FAR. WATCH
THIS
INTERVIEW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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INTERVIEW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 6 THOUGHTS ON “KEATS AND THE POWER OF THE NEGATIVE:
PART ONE: “LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI”: A COMMENTARY” Marcus says:
June 26, 2015 at 6:51 pm
Didn’t have time to watch the entire interview during lunch – but what I did get was often thought­
provoking. I can’t say it’s your best because for me it’s my first But I will be listening more. And reading more. a lot. I like writers that don’t always “draw me in” but give
a different view or cause my thinker­mode to activate. Nice Reply erikleo says:
July 9, 2015 at 2:11 pm
Your analysis has made me want to study the poem which I’m not all that familiar with. I have a video­
talk on my blog about Keats’ Nightingale; dont know if youve seen it? Reply Pingback: Selected Essays, Squibs, and Short Fiction by Joseph Suglia |
drjosephsuglia Pingback: SELECTED ESSAYS AND SQUIBS by Joseph Suglia | Selected
Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia Pingback: Selected Essays and Squibs by Dr. Joseph Suglia | Selected Essays
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