A comparison of To Autumn and La Belle Dame Sans Merci on how they present strong emotions and ideas To Autumn and La Belle Dame Sans Merci are poems both written by John Keats. Both are classic examples of the genre. Both poems share emotive and passionate feelings. In to Autumn Keats describes his strong feelings about autumn. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci we see Keats express strong emotions about life and death. In this essay I plan to focus on the different emotions and ideas that Keats writes about in To Autumn and La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
In To Autumn the first stanza describes the bounty, in the last the dreaminess, Keats expresses words that are so transparent and direct that reading the poem we almost forget they are words, and in fact are nature itself. Keats makes it appear as though the seasons are speaking to the reader and not him. This pensiveness and interaction with Mother Nature creates s subtle awareness of time passing and of changes taking place within nature.
In La Belle Dame Sans Merci Keats presents his ideas quite differently to how he did in To Autumn. The ballad does not open with a relaxing tone; the first paragraph uncomfortably cuts off very sharply. A general comparison that one can make between the two pieces is that the contents of To Autumn are wholesome and natural whilst the contents of La Belle Dame Sans Merci is supernatural and incredibly dream like. Keats deliberately uses archaic language in To Autumn and La Belle Dame Sans Merci; this creates a more poetic effect in the two poems.
To Autumn appeals greatly to the senses, “with ripeness to the core” is describing tasting of the fruit and is a description that therefore appeals to the taste buds. Keats also appeals to scent in To Autumn – “Drows’d with the fume of poppies” In To Autumn descriptions appealing to the senses are generally positive. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci imagery related to the senses is more complicated than in To Autumn.
There is imagery appealing to the senses that is a blur between positive and negative. “Full beautiful – a faery’s child” describes beauty that is supernatural, somebody so beautiful that it simply cannot be real. Keats also writes “I see a lily thy brow” which is obviously negative and is a description of fear. After describing fear Keats writes about looking pale and feeling ill “With anguish moist and fever dew, And on thy cheeks a fading rose” Fear and illness are two fundamental elements that Keats would have been experiencing from the point he realized he had tuberculosis.
Keats presents his views in To Autumn by writing very vividly his imagination is almost photographic. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the sonnet is so magical, supernatural and fantasy like the reader will inevitably make up their own mind about what Keats is describing. In To Autumn however the description of autumn is so clear that the reader can quickly see what Keats is describing. La Belle Dame Sans Merci the narrator appeals to feel sorry for the knight in the first stanza, the narrator shows concern in his opening line – “O what can ail thee”. The first three stanzas of the sonnet contain many words with negative meanings – “ail”, “no birds” and “fever”.
The diction and outlook is evidently negative. The reader will probably sympathise with the knight because of this. To Autumn starts very differently. It starts with a definite positive and uplifting tone with the opening first stanza addressing Autumn, describing its abundance, its friendship with the sun, how Autumn ripens fruits and causes the late flowers to bloom. In the second stanza Keats appears to describe the figure of Autumn as Mother Nature, frequently seen sitting on the granary floor, her hair “soft-lifted” by the wind, and often seen sleeping in the fields or watching a cider-press squeezing the juice from apples.
In La Belle Dame Sans Merci love plays a considerable part, “I made a garland for her head” is clearly a romantic gesture and hints that Keats has fallen in love with the “faery’s child”. Keats also presents us with ideas on his feelings about death – withering and fading flowers, winter, paleness, cold, sleep, and corpse-like men. Keats uses repetition of the word pale – “Pale warriors, death-pale” and he uses the phrase “paley loitering” twice – once in the first stanza and once in the last stanza. The plethora of imagery indicating death shows the reader that death was probably on Keats mind whilst he was writing La Belle Dame Sans Merci. To Autumn does not have a theme of love with a person but instead it describes a love of autumn and a love of life in general.
Time is presented in different ways in the two poems. In To Autumn the poem has a solid theme of time passing – “soft dying day”. There is also regret at the passing of time and the changing of the seasons – “Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn” From this quote we can obviously tell that the gnats dislike autumn ending. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the reader does not have as clear motion of time. The Knight loses track of time, he goes into a trance “Hath thee in thrall”. To Autumn and La Belle Dame Sans Merci have both proved very influential poems over a long period of time. Despite living such a young life Keats’s is undoubtedly one of the most important poets of the English language and his work will live on for many more years.