Haggard and woe-begoneThe Arundels’ Tomb and John Keats’s ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’

Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)154-164
Number of pages11
JournalRomanticism
Volume28
Issue number2
Early online date01 Jun 2022
DOI
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2022
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Abstract

The first draft of Keats’s ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ appears abruptly, seemingly from nowhere, in a letter of April 1819. In this famously inconclusive poem, the knight-at-arms, much like the geographic setting in which his psychological drama plays out, also seems to exist in uncoordinated, self-contained space. This essay seeks to connect the apparently mythical reference points in the ballad to actual places known to Keats. In particular, it examines the prompts and cues that Keats found around him in January and February 1819 during a visit to Chichester and Bedhampton. Our focus is on the imaginatively catalysing effigies of an alabaster knight and lady seen in Chichester cathedral – famous from Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘An Arundel Tomb’ – as well as on the topography of hills, lakes and meads that Keats encountered while staying at Lower Mill in Bedhampton. This essay, then, attempts a ‘placing’ of key elements of ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ in Keats’s lived world. The act allows us to expand and deepen our sense of the complex relationship between physical, imaginative and emotional topographies in Keats’s poetry.

Keywords

  • Bedhampton, Chichester cathedral, John Keats, Philip Larkin, effigies, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’

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