Love poetry has existed for centuries; it takes many forms ranging from Shakespeare’s sonnets and dream visions from Chaucer to medieval ballads and feminist statements. As well as poetry, love comes in many forms as well. The main forms that we see in the poems are unrequited love, romantic love and possessive love. These poems that I will discuss are very varied, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ is written by John Keats and it is in the form of a ballad.
The next poem is ‘My last Duchess’ by Robert Browning, which gives an insight to possessive love.John Keats belongs to a group of poets called The Romantics who believed in respecting women and often spoke of the beauty of the middle ages. Keats writes the poem in the form of a ballad. He does this because many people at the time were illiterate and so because a ballad can be sung it became popular more easily and was a lot more accessible to many. Another reason for the choice of Ballad is because it is a very romantic form of poem and with Keats being a romantic it is very fitting.The poem itself conveys a very negative side of love, the knight, who is the main character, becomes infatuated with a Faery who cast a spell on him.
Although he almost instantly falls in love with the Faery his love for her is unrequited. The effects of the love not being a mutual feeling between the knight and the Faery are very drastic. When he realises after a dream that he was tricked into his irreversible love we see a lot of death imagery showing a contrast to the start of the poem and a clear and display of the effects the Faery is having on him.At first the knight was speaking of ‘love’ and ‘kisses’ which is the basic attitude at the start but when he awakes from his dream he speaks of people being ‘death-pale’ and ‘starved lips’ an other piece of death imagery we see is the ‘lily’, often associated with funerals. The poem has a circular nature as it starts with a knight ‘palely loitering’, is then centred around two people apparently falling in love, followed by the knight again ‘alone and palely loitering’.
The fact that the poem is circular creates an atmosphere of the knight being trapped and encompassed by his love for the Faery. In the relationship between the knight and Faery the night is almost passive as the Faery ‘lulled’ him and ‘took him to her elfin grot’. With the female character leading the male, we see her with all the power. The effects of the Faery not loving the man are very drastic and infer that, as a contrast to the stereotype in the medieval setting the man is weak whilst the woman is strong and dominant.The Faery child is a very dangerous character; she seduces the knight with exotic fruits like ‘manna dew’ and speaks in a ‘strange language’. The way in which the Faery seduces the knight and then disposes of him, leaving him caught in her spell shows her immense power.
These powers that she possesses demonstrate how she ruined other powerful kings and noblemen as we read, ‘kings and prices’. These enchanting characters that put spells on men and are very unpredictable, are very common in medieval poetry.The fact that this figure has ruined several powerful men’s lives we know that she has a vendetta against men and that through attacking powerful men she can vent her anger and gain revenge.
We can also see that a hunger for power and dominance in a relationship is one of her motives and through gaining power against strong men she can in turn feel stronger. If we look into the subtext of the poem and try to see what Keats was suggesting, we notice the fact that men’s fear of women is very predominant.A powerful woman is something a lot of men would be afraid of as they are seen as unknown threats and rebellious. The sirens were Greek mythological characters who were said to have seduced men through their song and then killed them. We see many similarities between the sirens and the Faery as both seduced men and both ruined them. As all Greek myths had an underlying story or message, in the case of the sirens it was a warning that women can be sly and manipulative towards men’s sexual weaknesses.The story of the knight and the Faery conveys the same message, and displays how women are not necessarily weaker than men, contrary to the stereotype at the time. The love in this poem is described very negatively.
As we see the man tortured by love and is left on ‘a cold hill side’, we see the very damaging effect love had on him, from this we could say that yes it was presented entirely negatively but it was not.In the middle of the poem we actually see blissful love as the man was blinded by the amazing love he felt for the woman, ‘and nothing else saw all day long’. The next focus of my essay is the poem ‘First Love’ by John Clare. ‘First Love’ is strongly linked with ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’; this is mainly because both are about the pains of unrequited love. Ones first love is always very memorable and important to them, the poem ‘First Love’ is surprisingly about that experience.