la Belle Dame Sans Merci

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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la Belle Dame Sans Merci

Postby knight@arms » Sun May 23, 2004 10:02 pm

I am angry on behalf of Keats that this site has chosen to reproduce the bootleg version of his poem rather than the version that he wrote, edited, approved, and published in 1820. The bootleg version of an early draft of the poem wasn't published until sixty years after his death. Clearly it doesn't say all that Keats wanted it to say, otherwise he would not have changed it.

Out of respect for Keats, I offer here a fairly accurate rendering of the poem the way that Keats wanted it.

la belle Dame sans merci a ballad
-- by John Keats
(First published version/final version, 1820)

1 Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
2 Alone and palely loitering;
3 The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
4 And no birds sing.

5 Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
6 So haggard and so woe-begone?
7 The squirrel's granary is full,
8 And the harvest's done.

9 I see a lily on thy brow,
10 With anguish moist and fever dew;
11 And on thy cheek a fading rose
12 Fast withereth too.

13 I met a lady in the meads
14 Full beautiful, a faery's child;
15 Her hair was long, her foot was light,
16 And her eyes were wild.

17 I set her on my pacing steed,
18 And nothing else saw all day long;
19 For sideways would she lean, and sing
20 A faery's song.

21 I made a garland for her head,
22 And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
23 She look'd at me as she did love,
24 And made sweet moan.

25 She found me roots of relish sweet,
26 And honey wild, and manna dew;
27 And sure in language strange she said,
28 I love thee true.

29 She took me to her elfin grot,
30 And there she gaz'd and sighed deep,
31 And there I shut her wild sad eyes--
32 So kiss'd to sleep.

33 And there we slumber'd on the moss,
34 And there I dream'd, ah woe betide,
35 The latest dream I ever dream'd
36 On the cold hill side.

37 I saw pale kings, and princes too,
38 Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
39 Who cry'd--"La belle Dame sans merci
40 Hath thee in thrall!"

41 I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
42 With horrid warning gaped wide,
43 And I awoke, and found me here
44 On the cold hill side.

45 And this is why I sojourn here
46 Alone and palely loitering,
47 Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
48 And no birds sing.
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The prinetd 1820 version is inferior.

Postby Saturn » Mon May 24, 2004 10:53 pm

I don't understand why you have decided to draw our attention to the inferior revised version printed in the Indicator.

You say that Keats edited and approved of it, but most people agree that, by this time his judgement was inpaired by his worsening illness and the poem was edited so as to tone down the dreamy, magical aura of the poem which is lost in the more simplified, conventional, narrative version which you have given us.

All the ambiguity and sense of threat is diminished with the revised version, robbing the poem of it's great atmosphere of menace and mystery.

I understand it's important to look at alternate versions of a poet's work, and I respect your view, but personally the version that appears in most modern editions is the superior one, more true to Keats intentions than the limpid, flaccid poem which you have championed.
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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“We all say so; so it must be so.”

Postby knight@arms » Tue May 25, 2004 9:12 pm

It is up to the poet to decide if and when the needs of his muse have been satisfied.

To have a group of death-pale schoolboys, three score years later, decide that Keats fits nicely into one of their conceptual boxes — but that he fits better if they remove the bits that they don’t like — is the height of arrogance on their part and a most grievous insult to the artist.

Keats revised his poem because he knew it was liable to the very misinterpretation to which it has since been subjected. It is a good thing that we have intact an earlier version so that we can see something the man’s creative process and of the direction he wanted to go. We are not obligated to follow where he goes, but we cannot demand that it was never his intention to go there. We cannot tell him what it is that he wanted to say when what we mean is “what we want him to say”!

Mr. Saturn, you say in your post that “most people agree that” Keats’ version was “the inferior revised version.” Who are these “most people”? Surely you refer only to that small minority of the world’s population that want to stuff Keats’ mouldering remains into some romanticized box — his ashes into some dead and buried Grecian urn. The truth-and-beauty is that “most people” don’t give a damn. But I do!

I will speak up for the man, perhaps not for his sake, but for yours. Keats is safe in the arms of La Belle Dame where you and your kind can never touch him. He lived for truth-and-beauty. And wherever truth-and-beauty is, Keats lives there still.
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Who dares claim to know the poets' intentions?

Postby Saturn » Tue May 25, 2004 10:47 pm

Hey, Knight@arms, don't patronise me with your personal belief - You write as if you are the true oracle of Keats' thoughts and intentions - have you a hotline to Elysium? Who are you to say what Keats real purpose was?

A revised poem does not neccassarily reflect the poet's final intentions. Coleridge was still tinkering with some of his poems years after they were supposedly 'finished'. (e.g. Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan).
Who knows, had Keats lived a few more years, all of his poems would have been revised much more fully and have come down to us in a very different form - even in his lifetime look how he revised Hyperion.

The 'most people' I refered to in my post was most editors of the poems who I have read. I was merely suggesting that the unrevised version was the one which is judged more artistically true to Keats intentions based on analysis of his work as a whole and the various versions of the poem.

Also, I was merely reflecting a personal view of the poem. I speak for no-one but myself in saying that I prefer the original version.

I don't understand why you think by doing so, I am denigrating Keats, or his work. I am one of the people who do 'give a damn'; I live and breath poetry everyday and care very much about the place of literature in society - see my Decline of Poetry in the Poems, Odes and Plays forum.

I do not want to put Keats in any pretified, compartamentalized, box as you suggest - I would banish all labels, were they not general descriptive tools to aid our understanding.

I am offended that you group me with those mouldy old critics; my 'kind' is those who are in favour of a personal interpretation of poetry - everyone should make up their own minds on what a poem is about and only use the critics' views to inform their choice.

I would say however that it is you who had a romantized idea of Keats - "He lived for truth-and -beauty" - it is this kind of romanticised piffle that misrepresents Keats himself, other poets, and poetry in general.

Keats Lived. Full stop - his life was much the same as anyone else's - he had failings likethe rest of us, and did not always adhere to such high ideals. He was not some paragon of virtue - no one ever is....
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Postby MonroeDoctrine » Thu May 27, 2004 6:52 am

The actual text isn't as important as the idea! The beauty of the poem is the ability to recite it. Keats' English is already developed that it is usually well written however, it takes a true poet to convey a powerful tragedy to a group of people with a few shots of wine.

"La Belle Damn formalism hath thee in thrall!"
I saw their stupid formalist thinking with horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here on the forum side....
Peace
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Full tilt

Postby knight@arms » Fri May 28, 2004 7:02 pm

Yes, Mr. Saturn, I did take a poke at you; and for that I sincerely apologize. I clearly strayed outside the bounds of chivalry. I am hardly worthy to be called a knight.
I am sure that you don’t like to grouped with the mouldy old critics any more than Keats would have liked to be grouped with the likes of Byron or Shelly. Henceforth, you shall no longer be mouldy. I dub thee, “Sir Stephen, well-preserved old critic of the Forum.”
That said, Sir Stephan, I still believe that you (and others with whom you are no longer grouped) are wrong on several points, the foremost of which is the artist’s right to have editorial control over his own work. If a group of mouldy old critics (not you, of course) insist on shaping Keats into their mold, they should at least acknowledge that Keats published his poem the way that he wanted it published and not insist on grouping “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” with his posthumous publications.
Furthermore, Sir Stephen, the “limpid, flaccid” version that I have championed is, in my opinion, the superior one and more true to Keats’ intentions. Yes, as you say, the ambiguity is gone. Keats’ despair is obvious. Dying, impoverished, failed as a poet, spurned by his beloved in so many ways, Keats changes his name from “knight at arms” to “wretched wight.”
You say “piffle” that he gave his life for truth-and-beauty. The critics of his day put it more like, “That dumb thankless bitch has you spellbound!”
Who killed Keats? The critics, the merchants, the death-pale school-boys.
Who is still killing him? Tell me, and they shall soon know the mercy of my sword!
Hi-Ho-Rocinante, away!
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We'll agree to differ, okay?

Postby Saturn » Fri May 28, 2004 10:21 pm

Thanks, Sir knight@arms for your most courteous and chivalrous reply; I am well chastised for my own somewhat nasty remarks, I wasn't having a good day and took some of my frustration out on you, and for this I apologise most profusely.

The very thought that I said any version of a poem by Keats was 'limpid and flaccid' makes me blush with shame, and I conceed that remark was not intended to denigrate the quality of the poem, just my overexaggeration of the changes made to it.

I wish now to end this topic and hope that we will agree to differ, and that we can both enjoy posting different opinions about the Prince of Poesy as friends and not enemies.
I look forward to reading more of your posts, you have once again raised the bar of deabate on this forum, and for that you are to be encouraged - would there were more people as passionate about poetry in the world!

P.S I'm not mouldy, or even well preserved, I'm only 24 for crying out loud!
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Guiness is good for you.

Postby knight@arms » Fri May 28, 2004 10:50 pm

Cheers, Sir Stephen!
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Guiness is great!

Postby Saturn » Fri May 28, 2004 11:01 pm

That was a quick response!

I just had a great pint of Guiness today at lunch-time in work. Most refreshing.

As that great philosopher Homer Simpson says:

"Mmmmmmmmmmmmm Beer...."

Keats would have loved a Guiness - maybe he had one in Ireland.

The best Guiness is only available in Ireland - take a break in the lovely 'Emerald Isle'.

(Hey where's my cheque, Irish Tourist Board?).

Keats didn't have such a good time in my native city - the abject poverty in Ireland at that time was truly horrific.
Have you read his letter, (from his hiking tour with Brown) about visiting Belfast, and the rotten old Countess in her carriage pulled by miserable servants?
Thankfully, it's not half as bad as that now, in fact the city is being slowly rebuilt in a vibrant, modern style, after decades of neglect due to the 'troubles' (that so understated euphemism).

I can't believe the great poet once set foot on my homeland; I should kiss the grass with pleasure were it not so wet!

Two posts in one day - what a pleasureable extravagance.

Someone stop me taking over this site!!

I'm addicted - Aggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh........
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Re: la Belle Dame Sans Merci

Postby browneyes03 » Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:48 pm

It's possibly positively disgusting of me to dig up old posts but... I have enjoyed this thread greatly and hope, one day, to debate with such ferocious passion and sparking intelligence.
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Re: la Belle Dame Sans Merci

Postby Saturn » Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:01 pm

Poets pick up the old threads of passion, of beauty and truth and spin them anew, weave anew the timeless march of the muse.

Feel free to add anything you like to any thread browneyes03, you are very welcome.
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Re: la Belle Dame Sans Merci

Postby Endymion » Sun Jul 05, 2009 9:00 pm

Still orbiting I see, Old Saturn.

Don't mind me, I'm just back for a draft ;-)
"He Stood in His Shoes and he Wondered
He Wondered
He Stood in his Shoes and He Wondered."
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Re: la Belle Dame Sans Merci

Postby Saturn » Sun Jul 05, 2009 9:28 pm

Ahhhh Endymion, like a forgotten probe, you've finally swung into our orbit. :mrgreen:

Yes I'm still revolving, still steady in my celestial sphere so to speak.

Wonderful to hear from one of the old guard again :D
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Re: la Belle Dame Sans Merci

Postby Endymion » Tue Jul 07, 2009 7:16 pm

Saturn wrote:Ahhhh Endymion, like a forgotten probe, you've finally swung into our orbit. :mrgreen:

Yes I'm still revolving, still steady in my celestial sphere so to speak.

Wonderful to hear from one of the old guard again :D



Thanks Saturn!

It's nice to see what you've done with the place. Hope you continue to be enthralled.
"He Stood in His Shoes and he Wondered
He Wondered
He Stood in his Shoes and He Wondered."
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