Selected Poems of John Keats by John Garrett (auth.)

By John Garrett (auth.)

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By John Garrett (auth.)

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A sonnet ('A Dream, after reading Dante's Episode of Paola and Francesca') written at about the same time and copied into Fanny Brawne's copy of Dante suggests that 'La Belle Dame' found at least part of its stimulus in Fanny, and in Keats's growing conviction that love and death were the same goal (see th~ end of 'Bright star'). In this sonnet the speaker beholds in a dream a face and a form that blend beauty and death inextricably, as if love opened the door to both life and death at once: 'Pale were the sweet lips I saw,/Pale were the lips I kissed'.

The guests arrive, among them the uninvited Apollonius. At the height of the celebration Apollonius fixes his eyes on the 'alarmed beauty of the bride', staring at her icily until she withers beneath his gaze, finally vanishing 'with a frightful scream'. Traumatised by the sudden dissolution of all his dreams, Lycius dies the same night, his 'marriage robe' becoming his shroud. Commentary The poem was written between June and September 1819, during Keats's self-imposed exile from Fanny Brawne. It returns to the couplet form of Endymion, but the structure is tighter now, the syntax terser, the lines pruned of verbal excess.

The triumph of the good over the wicked, even though purchased at some pain (the beadsman's final penance in 'rough ashes', the 'palsied' demise of old Angela), ensures that the poem's tone is not tragic but rather a combination of medieval romance and Christian memento mori. The dominant impression the poem leaves is that life is a temporary condition whose termination is to be endured but not deplored. A warm spiritual zone - perhaps that to which the lovers have 'fled' - coexists alongside the inhospitable physical one that maims ('the hare limped') and benumbs ('silent was the flock') its inhabitants.

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