Lord Byron’s ‘When we two parted’ and John Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’

Lord Byron’s ‘When we two parted’ and John Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ describe lost love and its severe effect on people. They convey the feelings of a man who has been manipulated by a woman, and then left in a depressed, lonely, and confused state. In Byron’s ‘When we two parted’ he describes himself in a confused state at the end of a relationship. Whilst describing his sorrow, he questions the break up and realizes his partner’s deceitfulness and unfairness in their relationship.

Keats’ poem tells a story of a knight manipulated and put under a spell by a fairy, forcing him to fall in love with her. Later he finds himself alone, rejected and describes his feelings of pain of lost love. Byron’s poem describes the effect the end of a relationship had on him. He also questions their break up and notices his lover’s real feelings and attitude towards their relationship. In the first stanza he describes how he was saddened as a result of their separation, and how she did not seem to be as badly affected as he was.

Pale grew thy cheek and cold, Colder thy kiss; Truly that hour foretold, Sorrow to this” In this quotation he says that as time passed, he noticed that she did not have any feelings for him; and that he should have known that the end of their relationship was near. In the second stanza Byron expresses a change in their relationship- their separation. “Thy vows are all broken, And light is thy fame; I hear thy name spoken, and share its shame” He says that all their promises were broken, and that among people she had an ill repute and was known as a flighty person who could not have a serious relationship with anyone.

In the next stanza Byron says how people constantly talked of her and her bad reputation; yet he could not say anything because they had a secret relationship. “They knew not I knew thee, Who knew thee too well” However he still regrets their separation. “Long, long shall I rue thee, too deeply to tell”. In the final stanza Byron talks of how they shared a secret relationship, and how “I silently grieve” without sharing it with others. “That thy heart could forget, thy spirit deceive” In this extract he says that unlike him, she was not severely affected by their break up.

Byron also says that he would probably never get over her. This poem is very sad as it focuses on the rough ending of a relationship that was later found not to be true. Byron describes how his eternal love was not truthfully returned and the effect of lost love and rejection had on him. This creates a saddening mood and makes the reader feel sorrow towards him. Byron uses effective language in the poem and expresses his sadness well to describe the themes of love, deceit, sadness, rejection and morale in society.

Byron includes many words such as “silence, tears, grieve, chill, shudder” to convey feelings of depression, loneliness and sorrow. He uses the words “Half broken-hearted to sever for years” to describe how his partner was not harshly affected by their parting, and how he is left in sadness as a result. In describing his realization of his unrequited love he says “Pale grew thy cheek and cold, colder thy kiss” which means that he soon noticed that she did not have any true feelings towards him.

In the second stanza he uses descriptive language to compare the weather with his feelings of depression. “The dew of the morning; Sunk chill on my brow” The weather seems to reflect on the change in his relationship. Byron also uses rhetorical questions such as “Why wert thou so dear? ” and “How should I greet thee? ” to express his inner feelings. The title of Keats’ poem “La Belle Dame sans Merci” means the beautiful woman without pity.

This poem being a ballad, tells a story of a knight whom a fairy hypnotizes, making him fall deeply in love with her. She too pretends to return his love and takes him to her home, where the knight experiences a dream. Later he finds himself elsewhere alone and saddened as his love has left him. This rejection leaves the knight in a perpetual winter- of sadness. The poem begins by describing a knight in a saddened and upset state “Alone and palely loitering”. At this point the reader begins to wonder what the cause of the knight’s depression is.

Keats goes on to describe the knight’s condition as troubled, fatigued, delirious and depressed. “Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight, So haggard and so woe-begone? ” The next stanza begins to answer the questions that arose in the previous stanzas. In the fourth stanza the knight speaks, and says “I met a Lady in the meads; Full beautiful, a fairy’s child; Her hair was so long, her foot was light, and her eyes were wild” In these lines the knight describes the ‘beautiful’ woman he previously met.

He was so undertaken by her beauty and charm that “nothing else saw all day long” But this woman, who was really a fairy, whose only purpose was to cast a spell on this defenseless knight, hypnotized him- making him fall deeply in love with her. “For sideways would she lean, and sing A faery’s song” The knight became obsessed with her and expressed his true love and the fairy in turn, pretended to return his love for her. “She look’d at me as she did love, And made a sweet moan” The next stanza describes how the woman provided the knight with food from heaven- possibly hinting that she was an immortal being.

As the knight was under the fairy’s control he did not notice anything peculiar or untrue about her. “And sure in language strange she said, I love thee true” And so she continued to manipulate the helpless knight. Soon the fairy takes the knight to her home and there he falls asleep, and experiences a dream. In this dream he “saw pale kings, and princes too, Pale warriors, death-pale were they all; Who cry’d-‘La belle Dame sans merci hath thee in thrall! ‘ These pale looking people told the knight that he was put under a spell by the fairy.

The purpose of this dream is to bring the knight back to reality. Instantly he awoke and found himself alone and tricked by the fairy- left in a sad and pressurized state. The subject matter is saddening because it is about the pain and sorrow lost love causes, and how a person’s feelings were manipulated and exploited. The supernatural elements of the poem, such as the fairy and food from heaven make the poem more haunting, and mysterious yet at the same time somewhat enchanting and enthralling.

Keats uses simple yet effective language to describe the events and emotions in the poem. He uses both imagery and rhetorical questions in the poem, which make it more enthralling. In the first three stanzas he uses effectual language so that the atmosphere and scenery reflects his quiet and sad mood. Firstly the poet describes the knight as a “wretched wight” who seems to be in a rather depressed and lonely state. He also says that the knight is “Alone and palely loitering” which further explains his condition to the reader.

In describing the surroundings the poet says “The sedge has wither’d from the lake, and no birds sing” which shows how he has effectively compared the scenery to the knight’s emotions. The lines “The squirrel’s granary is full, And the harvest’s done. ” is symbolic of winter which parallels the knights emotions. In the third stanza Keats describes the knight’s condition and says “I see a lilly on thy brow, with anguish moist and fever dew; And on thy cheek a fading rose fast withereth too. In this line he describes how the knight looks rather worried and delirious.

The word “Lilly” is a metaphor that shows that the knight looked pale and quite deathly. The beginning of the poem arises many questions in the reader’s mind and also uses rhetorical questions such as, “Ah, what can ail thee” and “So haggard and so woe-begone? ” The dream sets a dark yet sad atmosphere to the poem, as the knight is left in a depressed, lonely and confused state afterwards. The fairy exploited his feelings and his love was left unrequited.

To him it seemed as though everything was perfect and that this relationship portrayed an idealistic love; but it was really an illusion. The dream concluded his perfect love and left him in a confused and lonely condition. The poem is written in the form of a ballad, which tells a story including supernatural elements, which in this case refers to the fairy that tricks a helpless knight. The poem is divided into quatrains, which causes a natural pause between the stanzas, which leaves time for the reader to ponder and comprehend what has been said.

This seems to create a sense of sadness in the poem, as does the last line of the first and last stanzas of the poem. The lines “Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake, And no birds sing” are a repetition of the first stanza and show how the knight is left to live in a perpetual winter and coldness, as a result of his lost love. This provides a rather haunting and saddening effect as it portrays the knight’s inner emotions of pain and sorrow and how it compares with his surroundings.

In conclusion, I think that both Lord Byron’s ‘When we two parted’ and John Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ are quite similar in that they are based on the themes of love, deceit, sadness, exploitation of one’s feelings and rejection. They both describe situations where a person is severely affected by lost love, and how they are left in rather depressed and sad state as a result. They seem to focus mainly on the effect the end of a relationship may have on a person and the pain and sadness it may cause. The sadness in the poems is well portrayed by the effective language used and the subject matters.