Tuesday, October 14, 2008

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

I first learnt the poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats (1795-1821)in my tenth standard. In plain English it means "The lady without mercy". Back then, as it is now, our English teachers neither had the finesse to teach poetry, certainly no patience to tease out the various interpretations of a poem that lends itself to various interpretations. The other poem, very commonly interpreted one way but can be interpreted another way, is Robert Frost's "The Road not taken" ( I shall blog that seperately).

"La belle" tells a simple story of a knight who falls in love with a lady he meets, then feels deserted by her. He is convinced that she loved him and deserted him like she did many others before him. But did she? Was it love that she felt? Check http://www.bartleby.com/126/55.html for complete text.

The key line is "She look’d at me as she did love". He THINKS she gave a look of love. The important paragraphs are:

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

Relish the line "And sure in language strange she said- I love thee true". The assumption is laid bare. Then she takes him home, she weeps and lets out a a sigh filled with sore. It is here that poetic intentions play with our minds. Why did she weep? Why the sore sigh? Did she weep for this yet another woeful man who mistakes her kindness or whatever she feels as romantic love or even desires to take that love to be forever while its intended only for the moment. The love struck knight shuts her eyes with kisses and goes to sleep. In his dream he sees apparitions of kings, princes and warriors who say "La Belle Dame sans Merci, Hath thee in thrall".

Lost in translation, we would say in modern parlance

No comments: