La Belle Dame Sans Merci
by John Keats
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" is so full of flowers, it could practically open its own sidewalk kiosk. Most of the flower imagery in the poem has some kind of symbolic weight to it. We usually associate flowers with springtime, with love, and with life, but that's not always the case in "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." These flowers can be kind of tricky, but never fear. Shmoop is here to help you untangle some of those ambiguous images.
- Line 9: Lilies are often associated with death in Western culture, so the "lily" on the knight's forehead doesn't bode well for him. We can also be pretty sure that the knight doesn't have a flower glued to his forehead, so the speaker is employing a metaphor when he says that he "see[s] a lily on thy brow." Besides the association with death, lilies are pale white, so a slightly less morbid reading of this line would be that the knight isn't dying, but is just sickly pale.
- Line 11: Roses are often associated with love in Western culture (hence all the advertisements around Valentine's Day), but the knight's "rose" is "fading" and "wither[ing]." Sounds like a pretty clear metaphor for the end of a romantic relationship. But like the lily, the rose describes the knight's complexion. The rose is "fading" from the knight's "cheeks." So the rose metaphor is doing double duty – it's describing both his "fading" love affair, and his increasingly pale complexion.
- Lines 17-18: The knight makes a flower "garland" and "bracelets" for the fairy lady. He decks her out in flowers. If the knight associates flowers with love and life the way we usually do, it's pretty clear that he's totally in love (or at least in lust) with her.
- Line 18: A "fragrant zone" is a flower belt – it's another string of flowers that the knight offers the fairy lady. But it could also be a euphemism for her anatomical "zone" right underneath the belt.