Keats, John - La belle dame sans merci - a ballad

Referat / Aufsatz (Schule), 2001

5 Seiten, Note: 5,7 (nach

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Part 1: Introduction

I’ve divided my presentation into several parts.

1. Introduction
2. Vocabulary exercise
3. Biography of the author
4. Origin of the poem
5. Style
6. Old English vocabulary on the blackboard
7. Summary
8. Discussion
9. Final commentary

Part 2: Vocabulary exercise

You’ll see some graphics and pictures on the transparency...then it’s your turn to find out the right name of the item...

Part 3: Biography of the author

John Keats was born in 1795 in London as the first child of Thomas Keats and his wife Frances (Jennings) Keats. Three more sons and a daughter were born to the couple before Thomas's death in April 1804 in a fall from a horse. With four very young children to care for, Frances married a man named William Rawlings in 1805, but the marriage was not successful, and, when the couple separated in the following year, she and her four children went to live with her mother. John Keats received his earliest education at a private school in Keats's mother died of tuberculosis in February 1810, and in 1811 he was taken out of school and apprenticed to Thomas Hammond, a surgeon, at Edmonton. It was during this time that he began to read poetry seriously and to write it himself. His apprenticeship ended by mutual consent in 1815, and Keats went to London to study medicine at the joint school of St. Thomas's and Guy's Hospitals. In July 1816, he passed his examination as an apothecary, and worked until April of the next year as a medical practitioner.

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In 1816, Keats's friend Charles Cowden Clarke introduced him to two poets whose style would have a great effect on the direction of Keats's writing and his career. The first was George Chapman, dead for nearly two hundred years, whose translations of the epic poems inspired Keats's first major poem, the sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." The other was the very much alive James Henry Leigh Hunt. Keats met a number of artists and writers, including the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon, who became a close friend, and the poet Percy Shelley.

Keats's first volume, entitled simply Poems, was published in March 1817 and failed to attract much notice beyond a favorable review from Leigh Hunt. Later that year, Keats wrote Endymion, a mythologically-based poem on the theme of love. Published in April 1818, this work was heavily attacked later in that year in two conservative journals, Blackwood's Magazine and the Quarterly Review. In light of Keats's early death, a myth grew to the effect that he had been so disturbed by these assaults that they hastened, if they did not actually provoke, his demise. But Keats had a more robust and sensible temperament than to be done in by bad notices. Savage attacks of this nature were common at the time and the underlying motive of the criticism was more political than poetical.

In the summer of 1818, Keats met Fanny Brawne, a young woman who would be the great love of his brief life, and to whom he became engaged some time around the end of the year. By December 1818, when his brother Tom died of tuberculosis, the poet himself had begun to show early symptoms of the disease that had harrowed his family. The next year proved to be a critical one for Keats as a writer: in 1819 alone, he wrote almost all of his great poems, including one of his most famous poems named “La belle dame sans merci”. All of these except "'Bright star!'" appeared in Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820), which received favorable notices in several leading periodicals.

But this triumph was overshadowed by a much grimmer occurrence: on the 3rd February 1820, Keats had a coughing fit that led him to hemorrhage some dark arterial blood. With his medical training, he recognized the gravity of the situation, and he told his friend Charles Armitage Brown, "That drop of blood is my death-warrant; I must die." After another relapse in June 1820, Keats determined to go to Italy, from whose warmer and drier climate he hoped to find some relief of his suffering. In September he sailed for Naples with a close friend, the artist Joseph Severn. Keats never saw England or Fanny Brawne again. The two men took lodgings in Rome, where Severn loyally cared for Keats, who retained his gentle and uncomplaining nature until his death on the 23rd February 1821.

Part 4: Origin of the poem “La belle dame sans merci”

„La belle dame sans merci“ is one of Keats most famous romantic poems. The title is taken from that of a poem by Alain Chartier, the secretary and court poet of Charles VI. and Charles VII. of France. This title had caught Keats's fancy.

Keats had a voluminous correspondence, and we can reconstruct the events surrounding the writing of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci". He wrote the poem on April 21, 1819. It appears in the course of a letter to his brother George, usually numbered 123. At the time, Keats was very upset over a hoax that had been played on his brother Tom, who was deceived in a romantic liaison. He was also undecided about whether to enter into a relationship with Fanny Brawne, who he loved but whose friends disapproved of the possible match with Keats.

Shortly before the poem was written, Keats recorded a dream in which he met a beautiful woman in a magic place which turned out to be filled with pallid, enslaved lovers. Just before the poem was written, Keats had read Spenser's account of the false Florimel, in which an enchantress impersonates a heroine to her boyfriend, and then vanishes.

All these experiences probably went into the making of this lyric.

Part 5: Style

“La belle dame sans merci” is one of John Keats's most beautiful and most memorable poems. It is a ballad, describing a romantic encounter between a knight and a beautiful but supernaturally captivating woman. In the middle ages, ballads were popular songs that told stories. The poem in twelve short verses of four lines. At a time we have a rhyme at the end of the second an fourth line of each verse. Besides the poem includes some words written in Old English. The poem is like a dialogue between the knight and an unknown person.

Part 6: Old english vocabulary

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Part 7: Summary

The poet meets a knight by a woodland lake in late autumn. The man has been there for a long time, and is evidently dying. The knight says he met a beautiful, wild-looking woman in a meadow. He visited with her, and decked her with flowers. She did not speak, but looked and sighed as if she loved him. He gave her his horse to ride, and he walked beside them. He saw nothing but her, because she leaned over in his face and sang a mysterious song. She spoke a language he could not understand, but he was confident she said she loved him. She kissed her and fell asleep.

He dreamed of a host of kings, princes, and warriors, all pale as death. They shouted a terrible warning -- they were the woman's slaves. And now he was her slave, too. Awakening, the woman was gone, and the knight was left on the cold hill side.

What's It All About?

Keats focuses on how experiencing beauty gives meaning and value to life. In "La Belle Dame Sans Merci", Keats seems to be telling us about something that may have happened, or may happen someday, to you.

You discover something that you think you really like. You don't really understand it, but you're sure it's the best thing that's ever happened to you. You are thrilled. You focus on it. You give in to the beauty and richness and pleasure, and let it overwhelm you.

Then the pleasure is gone. Far more than a normal letdown, the experience has left you crippled emotionally. At least for a while, you don't talk about regretting the experience. And it remains an important part of who you feel that you are.

Drug addiction (cocaine, heroin, alcohol) is what comes to my mind first. We've all known addicts who've tasted the pleasures, then suffered the health, emotional, and personal consequences. Yet I've been struck by how hard it is to rehabilitate these people, even when hope seems to be gone. They prefer to stagnate.

Vampires were starting to appear in literature around Keats's time, and the enchantress of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" is one of a long tradition of supernatural beings who have charmed mortals into spiritual slavery. Bram Stoker's "Dracula" got much of its bite from the sexuality and seductiveness of the vampire lord.

Failed romantic relationships (ended romances, marriages with the love gone) account for an astonishing number of suicides. Rather than giving up and moving on, men and women find themselves disabled, but not expressing sorrow that the relationship occurred.

Religious emotionalism can have an enormous impact, and some lives are permanently changed for the better at revivals. But some people who have come upon a faith commitment emotionally find themselves devastated when the emotions fade, and become unable to function even at their old level.

Beauty itself, fully appreciated (as only a poet can), must by its impermanence devastate a person.

For Discussion

What do people mean by "romanticism"? Some common features of works from the movement are:

- simple language;
- medieval subject matter;
- supernatural subject matter;
- emphasis on beauty, emotion, and sensuality;
- emphasis on unreason.

Is the woman a wicked temptress, trying to destroy men for caprice or sheer cruelty? Or are her tactics her way of defending her life and/or the people of her supernatural nation?

Or is she, too, unable to fully join with mortal men, and as sad and frustrated as the men whose lives she has touched?

Does the knight stay by the lake because he sees no further purpose in living, or because his experience has redefined him as a person, or because he expects the woman to return?

What happened to his horse?

Conservatives have suggested that the enchantress in the poem is a nature-cult that leads to demonic possession. Be this as it may, what is the fascination of the supposed supernatural and magical?

Do you know anybody who has had a good and/or a bad experience with something like this?

Part 9: Final commentary

It was the first time I ever read a poem written by John Keats. Although it was not very easy to understand and get the idea of the poem, i think, it is a very fascinating story he tells us. While working on this I began to realise how much you can get out of a short poem like this. It was very interesting to work on this poem to create a presentation about it. And the way as the lady enthralled the Knight, so did Keats poem to me.

Thank you for your attention!

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Keats, John - La belle dame sans merci - a ballad
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John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci Poem Presentation
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Julian Wilhelm (Autor), 2001, Keats, John - La belle dame sans merci - a ballad, München, GRIN Verlag,


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