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Compare and contrast the poems La Belle Dame sans Merci(TM) by John Keats and The Song of Wandering Aengus(TM) by W.B. Yeats

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Introduction

Compare and contrast the poems 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' by John Keats and 'The Song of Wandering Aengus' by W.B. Yeats. In their times, separated by at least 50 years, Keats and Yeats were among the leading exponents of 'Romanticism'. The two poems under consideration epitomise a powerful aspect of the Romantic approach to women: idealised to such an extent that she was so perfect that once glimpsed all life thereafter was dust and ashes. Both poems are narratives, which describe overpowering encounters with women. The encounters leave the men love-stricken to the extent that they believe that there is no point in living. They are doomed to live in a perpetual vacuum. In 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' - the title gives a clear clue as to the theme - the love-lorn hero (typically a 'knight at arms', an heroic character) is discovered miserable and 'woe-begone' in a desolate landscape 'alone and palely loitering'. The voice off- we don't know who the interrogator is in the first three stanzas- sets the scene, adding on the one hand that since 'the harvests done' so it's time to relax and make merry (and on the other that 'with anguish moist and fever due' the knight is close to death. ...read more.

Middle

W.B.Yeats was imbued in late 19th century mysticism and a member of a number of 'secret societies'. He was also fanatical about Celtic mythology. The poem presents both of these avocations and gives a mystical feel to what might be a mere Romantic encounter. Aengus, after having 'cut and peeled a hazel wand' (hazel was associated with health and well-being because of its healing properties), settled down to in the wood (of hazel) 'because a fire was in his head'. With his wand he creates a rod 'and caught a little silver trout'. Yeats is telling us of a troubled man who has come to pass his time and clear his head with a little fishing. Then, upon going to 'blow the fire aflame', his name is called for the place where his fish had lay. 'It had become a glimmering girl with apple blossom in her hair'- 'glimmering' sparks the idea of the moon over water or magic- imagery of light and whiteness. Is she a child of the gloaming? Moreover, she called his name. Does this suggest she is a figment of his imagination? ...read more.

Conclusion

Yeats is describing love as a blessing and a curse, the sheer power of it, makes it so dangerous, that even a mere glimpse can be devastating. Yet Aengus does not seen too disheartened- he remains hopeful and believes in his destiny- 'I will find out where she has gone'. Even after years of fruitless wandering. Both the poems are extremely Romantic. They epitomize some of the views of the Romantics, but they still have slightly different perspectives. 'La Belle' from 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' is portrayed by Keats as a witch-like figure who ensnares the knight under her beauty. He is eaten up and spat back out again, but there is still, in both poems, the love of the men, however in this poem it is more lustful. It seems more sexually driven. 'The Song Of Wandering Aengus' is in a way more innocent. He simply glimpses this girl, and we get 'love at first sight'. Personally I enjoyed 'The Song Of Wandering Aengus'. I found it to be more sublime than 'La Belle Dame sans Merci'. However, the imagery in 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' I found to be more provoking. It gave me a greater sense of bewitchment and then loss and grief than in Yeats' poem. ...read more.

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