La Belle Dame Sans Merci
Where It All Goes Down
Reading "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" is like walking into a classic fairy tale. No, we don't mean the Disney kind, with happy, singing mice and twittering birds. We mean the old-school, medieval kind, with bleak landscapes, knights, fairies, and witches. The unnamed speaker at the beginning of the poem seems to have wandered into someone else's fairy tale, too. He's just out on a walk, enjoying the late autumn by a lake, when he sees a "haggard" knight who seems sick and depressed. He asks the knight what's up, and the knight launches into a long story about how he met a fairy lady in the fields somewhere. Is the knight's story all just a dream? Does the poem take place in a fairy tale, or in the real world? If it takes place partly in both, where's the border? The poem's setting seems designed to throw you off.