Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The Implicit Message in La Belle Dame

John Keats’ poem La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad describes a pallid knight wandering around a lake. As the knight describes La Belle Dame, he explains to the reader what the poem is implicitly saying; an enchanting woman stole a knight’s heart, but did not stay with him.

The knight describes the beautiful woman that enchants him as, “fully beautiful- a faerie’s child.” This line tells the reader that she may have the mischievous nature of a fairy, and most definitely the alluring beauty of one. Like fairies, sirens enchant men, and there is a possible connection to sirens in this line. In the next lines, the knight describes her long hair, and wild eyes. In the poem, her long, loose hair symbolizes her passionate behavior towards men, and specifically this knight.

In the lines preceding this, the knight sees, “on thy cheek a fading rose / fast withereth too.” He sees this rose on her, and it represents La Belle’s secret and taboo message for the knight. When he says that it withers quickly, the poem foreshadows her intent to leave him after she has had her way with him.

In the fifth stanza, the knight presents handmade gifts to La Belle Dame, who not only accepts the gifts, but returns the sentiment with a look of love. The following line is, “and made sweet moan.” This line indicates sexual interaction between them, and is the moment they become lovers.

For the next four stanzas, the knight sees nothing but La Belle, who tells him, “I love thee true.” Though she tells him she loves him, this is not an indication that she’ll stay faithful to him, or with him at all. She does none, and he awakes on a hillside, alone. Thus, the poem sends the message that this woman, (if not all women), are untrustworthy despite their displays of affection.



  1. I agree with your statement that La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad is a warning that all women are inherently his heart to a femme fatale. This reminds me of Lady Audley’s Secret because Lady Audley is also an example of an untrustworthy woman taking advantage of her beauty and sexuality to steal money from men. I find it interesting that cautionary tales of women stealing from men whether it be their hearts or their wealth reoccurs often in Victorian literature.

  2. I believe this poem sends the opposite message of Christina Rossetti’s poem, A Pause of Thought. This poem tells a story about a knight being led on by a woman, but ends up without her. This poem makes the readers believe that women play games with men’s emotions using their beauty. Women can enchant men with their looks and make men believe they are in love with them but, it is just a façade. The women end up leaving the men wondering what went wrong and if he will ever see the woman he was in love with again. However, in Christina Rossetti’s poem it is the woman who is left lonely and waiting for love. She is hoping that the man she is in love with will return to her and reciprocate the feelings.
    These two poems go to show, that both genders are equally hurt or hurt someone else when it comes to love. Love is not always easy, and the feeling is not always reciprocated or long-lasting. Love is experienced and affects everyone differently.

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