La Belle Dame Sans Merci
by John Keats
Seasons and Cycles
The beginning and end of the poem seem to take place during autumn or even early winter, but the sequence with the fairy lady seems to be during spring or summer. Does the fairy lady control the seasons? Or does her beauty make the knight think that winter is summer?
- Lines 3: "Sedge" is a grass-like plant that grows in marshy, wet ground close to lakes. If all the "sedge" is "wither'd," it's probably close to autumn, right? We usually associate images of autumn and fallen leaves with old age and imminent death, so this doesn't bode well for the knight.
- Line 4: Where are all the birds? Have they all migrated south for the winter? Wherever they went, their absence makes the landscape of the poem seem even more desolate than the "wither'd" "sedge."
- Line 7: A "granary" is a barn or warehouse used to store grain. The "squirrel" in this line probably doesn't have a literal building to store its nuts, so "granary" is a metaphor for the squirrel's hiding places that personifies the squirrel by associating it with characteristics and activities usually reserved for humans.
- Line 8: If all the crops have been harvested, then the fields are all empty and deserted. If the "sedge" is dead, the birds are gone, and all the crops are harvested, does that mean that the knight and the unnamed speaker are the only two living things in the landscape? There's good news about the image, though: "harvest" suggests planting, fertility, and the cycle of life – after all, the farmers who brought in the harvest are going to plant seeds again in the spring, and the cycle will repeat itself next year.