I intend to compare, ‘When We Two Parted’, a romantic poem by Lord Byron and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, also a romantic theme but a ballad by John Keats. In ‘When We Two Parted’ the poem tells of a loving relationship which has ended, when one of the partner’s feelings for the other waned. It expresses the emotions of resentment, betrayal, sorrow and anguish which are those sentiments which are often felt by the one in the relationship who has been left. It is personal to the poet and written to his lost love.
The poem by John Keats ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ has a similar message because it tells of a breakdown in a relationship; it is written as a ballad. It is a romantic story set in times past. It tells of the heartless reactions of a lady to her love-lorn knight. It is an allegory, perhaps written by the poet after he had been let down by his true love. In both poems a story is told in stages, represented in each stanza. Love is expressed in each poem by a feeling of pain and despair at its loss. The authors use expressive language to portray their pain and anguish, in ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ Keats work didn’t really focus on religion or ethnic issues, he wrote mainly about sensations and the richness of life. The style of poetry that Byron uses in
‘When We Two Parted’ suggests that he also preferred to write in a similar way; this is what makes the two poems suitable for comparison.
The two poems are structured completely differently. ‘When We Two Parted’ is made up of four eight line stanzas and alternate lines rhyme. The rhyme is enhanced by a rhythm which is made by the constant use of five syllables in each line. The use of this form, allows the reader to become immediately drawn to the intention of his poem. It has a rather stilted feeling about it, giving the impression that Lord Byron was so full of passionate hate when he wrote ‘When We Two Parted’ that it did not flow from his pen easily. The poet uses colons, semi-colons, dashes and full stops to emphasise the depth of his feelings:
‘Colder thy kiss;
Sorrow to this!’
This gives the impression that Byron was angry and miserable when he wrote the poem but that he also wanted to express these feelings as shortly as possible. He ends the poem with a question which he answers:
‘How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears’.
This not only echoes the opening two lines of the poem it also strengthens his feeling of eternal despair at the loss of his love.
‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ is made up of twelve four line stanzas in which only the second and fourth lines rhyme. We can see in ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ that the author wrote the poem in the style of a ballad, this is because this type of poem is a story. Keats probably saw his poem as an epic that could be remembered and retold by generation after generation, as a story of heart break and love. It is written as a romantic tale of love that has ended, almost like a play, and each verse represents a scene in the play. The regular use of commas and full stops allows the poem to flow from one idea to the next.
One similarity between the two poems is the use of repetition to emphasise the poet’s feelings and to return the reader to the initial reason for the poem being written:
‘Though the sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.’
In ‘When We Two Parted’ Lord Byron uses language that expresses a feeling of physical as well as emotional sickness.
‘The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow’
This gives the impression that Byron’s emotional state is making him feel cold, clammy and feverish. Byron adds to this feeling with the constant use of words related to coldness; ‘…shudder’,… ‘colder thy kiss’. This links with the emotional and physical illness that Keats’ narrator is going through, from loss of love, in stanza three;
‘I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withered too.’
We can see in the quote above, a sense that love is dying along with the rosiness in his lovers cheeks which are fading, signalling that as love is fading so is her stunning beauty.
Byron emphasises the idea that love has died using such phrases as: ‘To sever for years.’ This means that their love has been cut up and will never be whole again: ‘Thy vows are all broken.’ means that the relationship has reached such a state that all the promises they made to each other have been broken and: ‘A knell to mine ear’ suggests that a bell of death is tolling to tell of the passing of their love. There is also a mood of regret in such lines as:
‘Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.’
‘Why wert thou so dear?’
‘In silence I grieve’
Overall Byron gives a sense of disillusionment and betrayal. This is reflected in ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ but the ways in which these feelings are portrayed are entirely different. Keats tells of the emotions connected with the loss of love, through a dream-like ballad of times long past. The main characters are a chivalrous knight and a passer-by, who questions the knight about his sadness. Keats uses romantic, almost archaic language that is reminiscent of Shakespeare.
‘I met a lady in the mead,’
‘ The squirrel’s granary is full
And the harvest done.’
‘Hath thee in thrall.’
These quotes give a definite time frame. With the type of language used by Keats, we can see that the ballad was written at a time when the romantic poetry was extremely popular and poetic style was often influenced by the master of such poems; Shakespeare.
The author has written the ballad in sections; we can identify a beginning, a middle and an end; the beginning is shown in the first four stanzas with the introduction of a: ‘lady in the meads’ it then moves smoothly into the middle part of the ballad when the two lovers are having fun and enjoying each others company. The author is giving his lover romantic ‘presents’: ‘I made a garland for her head’ and the end tells of the break-up, the word ‘death’ signals the death of a relationship.
Parts of the ballad are in dream sequence:
‘and there she lulled me…
‘…I saw their starved lips’
Here, you get the feeling that reality has struck him hard, this is where he realises that he has been abandoned and that how dreadful he feels now this has happened. The ballad is aiming to give the message that love hurts and that you never know that it’s over until you wake up and get hit by the knowledge.
Mood and tone are key elements of any poem and are definitely present in both of my poems; Byron creates mood and tone by using dull and depressing vocabulary that reflects the poem’s theme;
‘…tears…broken…chill on my brow…sorrow…cold…’
These give a sense of pain and loss in each line, each with a word of heart ache, which lets the reader know of Byron’s deep heartache and distress. Repetition is also another way in which byron has portrayed the mood. He uses the word ‘cold’ twice, directly after each other, which implicates his ‘cold’ and broken heart. It sets the tone as being depressing and lonely. This feeling of ‘coldness’ appears several times throughout the poem, with words such as, ‘chill’ and ‘shudder’. These words help to set the mood by constantly referring to the bleakness of winter, and how to Byron, the loss of his love is like a winter.
There is a shift in Byron’s ‘When we two parted’ between the second and third stanza. The first two stanzas depict his own feeling of their parting, and he describes how he felt at the time, and is almost like a flashback of that fatal moment. The last two stanzas are almost like a reality check, and another influence is brought into the poem: “they”. This shifts the tone of the poem from being reflective to being a more questioning tone. It is also portrayed through literary technique. Alliteration is a key aspect, and Byron uses this at several points throughout the poem:
‘They knew not I knew thee
Who knew thee too well:
Long, long shall I rue thee
Too deeply to tell.’
The repetition of the “th” sound enhances the loss of this love, and creates a sound that fits the mood.
In ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ there are a lot of commas and semi-colons throughout the poem:
‘…what can ail thee, knight at arms,’
‘…death pale were they all; they cried – ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci”
These give the poem a short sharp quality which lets the reader be aware of the type of pain that is affecting the poet.
As in ‘When We Two Parted’ the tone is partially set by the repetition of phrases and words in the stanzas:
‘…sedge wither’d from the lake,’
This is repeated in the last line, along with:
‘and no birds sing’
these open and close the poem, this is very effective for the tone and also the mood of the poem, as the narrator, who is talking to a ‘knight at-arms’, is at the beginning of the poem the narrator is alone and lonely and looking for a love, and at the end when he realises that his new-found lover is actually quite floozy and has left many men;
‘I 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!”‘
This is to show that the mystical woman doesn’t only treat the narrator like this, she treats everybody like this, even ‘kings, and princes too,’.
In addition to ‘When We Two Parted’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ I have comed through three other poems, they are, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, ‘Never Seek To Tell Thy Love’ and ‘The Despairing Lover’. These poems are all from the era of my main poems and all compliment the theme of ‘loss loss of love’.
In ‘Never Seek To Tell Thy Love’ the structure is unique, it is very short, in line length and poem length, it is a group of three quatrains and has a regular syllabic pattern, these things make it short and snappy and give the poem a feeling of sharp pain as it is in very small blistering sections.
In ‘Never Seek To Tell Thy Love’ it is similar to ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ because of the way the narrator is left by hiss lover and is distraught because of his loss:
‘Soon as she was gone from me
A traveller came by
Silently, invisibly –
O, was no deny.’
This is from ‘Never Seek To Tell Thy Love’ it is the same as when the poet in ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ expresses his loss in the way:
I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried-“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”
This links to ‘Never Seek To Tell Thy Love’ because of the way they find out about their lover adultery, it is obviously a big shock. It is apparent that their lovers were maybe a bit ‘loose’, I can say this because the way they find out that their love has left them.
‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is linked to ‘When We Two Parted’ by the tone used to portry their pain. The tone used is very cold and bitter:
‘cold, colder thy kiss’
These types of words give the poems real pain, it almost gives the effect of physical sickness, this is told byt the authors with great ‘anguish’ as they use many words like this to give across their throbbing heart soreness.
In conclusion I think that the poets bring their themes to life well, by using all the things mentioned structure which is important to set the mood and tone, language which is important to set the mood, tone and gives the speed of the poem. Also the view of love is expressed by all the poets well as being ‘unrequited’ as it is not really returned in the same way as it is being bestowed on the poets love.