Both the poems ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and ‘Isabella, or The Pot of Basil’ are by John Keats and are on the theme of love. ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ is about a knight who is not named and about a woman who seems in-human from another land. ‘Isabella, or The Pot of Basil’ focuses on two realistic characters called Lorenzo and Isabella. Keats has written in the literary tradition called Romanticism, which is where things are not explained and are just implied. La Belle Dame’s appearance is described well: “hair was long… oot was light… eyes were wild”.
This is making the reader visualise what she looks like and we see that she is unreal and “a faery’s child”. Isabella’s beauty is again emphasised by lists and repetition but unlike La Belle Dame, Isabella is a normal ordinary girl: “poor simple Isabel! ” This is in contrast to the other poem and later on the reader feels sorry for Isabella as she wants to express her love but she can’t. In the two poems there is a male figure in each.
In La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ the knight who is not named behaves in a different way to what a knight is expected to act like. There are many negative words about the knight as he is found “Alone and palely loitering”, bewildered and confused whereas typically a knight would seem confident and not “So haggard and so woe-begone”. The setting is dull and bleak and this shows the sad, depressing tone of the poem. The narrative structure of ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ is the narrator in the first three stanzas and then the knight is responding for the rest of the poem.
The narrator is asking why the knight is acting in such a strange and unusual way: “O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms”, this question is the repeated in the second stanza because the knight has not answered. When the knight tells his story it is only from his point of view. Keats characterises Lorenzo by showing that he is very much in love with her: “And with sick longing all the knight outwear, To hear her morning-step upon the stair”, but he is not confident enough to express his love to her: “Honeyless days and days did he let pass”.
His love is only shown through his feelings for Isabella. Like the knight in ‘La Belle Dame’, Lorenzo is unhappy in love but for different reasons but at the end of the poem this changes and Lorenzo becomes happy. Isabella and Lorenzo’s relationship is shown in a different way to La Belle Dame and the knight. ‘Isabella, or The Pot of Basil’ shows a relationship that progresses in time because neither of them want to tell each other how they feel: “days and days”. This is the opposite of ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ as their love happens only over less than a day.
It was a impetuous, spontaneous thing that happened. The knight and La Belle Dame’s relationship was more a mutual attraction than normal love, it was a short length relationship: “She look’d at me as she did love”, they are drawn to each other by their external appearance whereas in ‘Isabella’ they are gradually falling in love with each other. They both really want to express their love but both of them pine away: “a dreary night of love and misery”. This shows that because they are so shy and not confident it is making them unhappy.
In ‘La Belle Dame’ we can only see the story through the eyes of the knight. The female is seen as evil but she may not have been really, the female might have just been unhappy and upset because she knows deep down they can never be together because they are from two different worlds: “there she wept and sigh’d full sore”. She knows that they are attracted to each other but it would never work. Isabella and Lorenzo are attracted to each other’s voice and know each other’s movements well: “hear her morning-step upon the stair”, Whereas the knight and La Belle Dame know nothing of each other.
Therefore one relationship has quick movement of happiness, then happiness and the other is unhappy until they express their love later on. After Lorenzo and Isabella had confessed their feelings to each other they both feel relieved and fulfilled: “Great bliss… Great happiness”. This repetition of the word “great” shows us that they are very happy and in love. There are different references to nature and seasons within the last stanza: “summer clime” and “lusty flower”, which proves that because Lorenzo had the courage to tell Isabella it all ends in happiness.
This happiness is a complete contrast to earlier in the poem when Lorenzo had “a dreary night of love and misery”. However the relationship between La Belle Dame and the knight did not work out in the end and despite the great happiness in the beginning they then go their separate ways and the knight seems unhappy and confused as a result. He is “Alone and palely loitering” because he has a nightmare and warned about her. This nightmare has the repetition of the word “pale” for emphasis on how ghost like they people in the nightmare were to suggest the unpleasantness.
Keats conveys the message of love by implying it through the two stories rather than stating it, which is the Romantic literary tradition. Keats also seems to suggest that love can bring misery, unhappiness and confusion into people’s lives but it also shows the happiness of love. He conveys in ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ that infatuation turns out a lot worse than real love and long-term relationships because love needs to be between two equal people for it to be successful.