Review: Representative Poetry Online/ John Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Mercy”

Representative Poetry Online contains “4,700 poems by 723 poets from Caedmon, in the Old English period, to the work of living poets today.” The website is rooted in Professor W. J. Alexander’s Representative Poetry, one of the University of Toronto Press’ first publications and was used in the University’s English Department until the late 1960’s. Ian Lanchashire founded and is the present general editor of Representative Poetry Online since 1994. Today Lanchashire is part of the Department of English at the University of Toronto, choosing to edit the poems out of “gratitude to the authors.” RPO accommodates to both reader and critic who are exploring different literary texts, providing an array of works from created by one poet. The website affiliates itself with the University of Toronto Press and the Department of English at the University. Most RPO poems are free to the public domain, readers who wish to publish or distribute a copyrighted text must obtain “an explicit written permission” from the copyright-holder. Copyright restrictions exist in a collection’s “editorial framework, introduction, notes, and indexes of these Web collections.” RPO is easy to manage and up to date, functioning as a tool for “non-commercial educational uses,” found on the University of Toronto English Library website’s Resources page under Electronic Books. Using the website I was able to find John Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Mercy along with the poem’s bibliography, publication start year, RPO poem editor/edition, rhyme and form.

La Belle Dame Sans Mercy follows the traditional ballad form using ambiguity and repetition. Keats begins the poem without identifying the speaker or dying knight he encounters, who tells him of a beautiful secret woman. The knight tells the speaker how she seduced him inviting him to her small house where she lulled him to sleep. In his dream the knight sees past men the woman had seduced and woke alone “on the cold hill side” (Keats, line 36). Keats portrays the woman in the poem as one who naturally deceiving and destructive, illustrating his frustration with women and love. The information the poet omits in the poem allows the reader to use much of her own imagination.  Keats repeats “The sedge is wither’d from the lake, and no birds sing” on the poem’s last two lines of the first and last stanzas revealing a setting that resembles the unfortunate fate the knight had to endure (Keats, lines 3-4). The poem’s simplicity provides the reader with enough room use their imagination, strongly associated to traditional ballads.


Quotes pertaining to Representative Poetry Online were retrieved from the website’s ‘About’ page.

John Keats, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820). Facs. edn.: Scolar Press, 1970. PR 4830 E20AB Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).


Romanticism in Shelley’s Frankenstein



Illustration by Theodor Von Holst from the frontispiece
of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein;
or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (Wikipedia)

I believe that it is necessary to better represent female writers in our course. While Frankenstein is considered a Gothic novel, Mary Shelley revels many romantic characteristics in her characters Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. Shelley’s novel was first published in 1818 anonymously in London. Her name later appears in the second edition, which was published in 1823 in France. The novel’s protagonist, the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, is not truly madd as we perceive him him to be in recent times, he embodies many of the same ideals romantic writers share. Similar to Shelley’s contemporaries, Frankenstein is striving to create a perfect world but chooses science to reach his intangible goal. Frankenstein wants to create a being that will be free of pain and death which would allow it to enjoy the beauties in life forever. In trying to surpass many human limitations the scientist reveals himself as a desperate dreamer. Frankenstein’s creature attempts to conjure human connections in both other beings and nature itself. I believe that in reading Frankenstein the course will be exploring a sophisticated side to romanticism, broadening our perception of different modes of writing during the romantic period.   

“We’ll go no more a-roving”

Lord Byron describes his frustration when becoming older since his mind and body are no longer able to keep up with his fast lifestyle in his poem “So, we’ll go no more a-roving.” In the last two lines of the first stanza he state “Though the heart be still as loving and the moon be still as bright” illustrating how much he continues have the same longings as he did when he was young. Physically and mentally Lord Byron feels a need for a break. The second stanza has the reader visualize a “sword [that] outwears its sheath,” a “soul [that] wears out the breast and [a] heart” that “must pause to breath” all images of Lord Byron’s physical state. He also uses the moon as a symbol of his passion fro making love. “The moon be still as bright” alludes to his desire to continue his love life but his body and mind becoming older hinders him from pursuing his passion. 

Shelley’s “To a Sky-Lark”

Percy Bysshe Shelley describes his love and admiration for animal life in his poem “To a Sky-Lark.” In his poem asks the bird “What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?” The poet also states “A thing where in we feel there is some hidden want,” in these lines he reveals the longing he has to be like an animal because they posses a knowledge that makes them ignorant to pain. While humans search “before and after” to find what an animal has, freewill and happiness, Shelley believes keeps humans from living in the present and learning from the nature that surrounds us. He finishes the poem asking the Sky-Lark to “teach [him] half the gladness that thy brain must know” a “harmonious madness” that would set him free from the pain he is enduring while being a human. Here the poet renders himself to the bird whom he considers to be “divine” once again emphasizing his longing to be the bird rather than simply a human admiring an aerial creature.  

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc’

Mont Blanc reminds Shelley of the “silence and solitude” that exists in nature making it sublime. “The still and solemn power” Mont Blanc possesses is eternal in it’s “many sights, and many sounds” that “keeps innocently” and is not witnessed by anyone. Shelly’s nature is dark and separate from the rest of the world, here the poet experiences the sublime alone. The mountain’s course of life in which “all things that move and breathe with toil and sound are born and die; revolve, subside and swell,” brings forth the easy process within nature that Shelley himself is a part of. Knowing all things in nature will end continues a feeling of sublime. Even though parts of nature will die Nature itself will continue forever, evoking fear and tranquility to the “human mind’s imagings.” 

Don Juan a timeless character in a timely poem

Lord Byron’s choice in creating an “epic” out of a timeless character such as Don Juan in the same poem that mentions periods in time and people that are not necessarily demonstrates his frustration with the other writings arising during his period. Byron writes his cantos about Don Juan without any real plot, digressing to focus on his technique rather than keeping the plot eventful. This gives the reader the insight that what the Byron is attempting to do is explore his technique without the need to create a new plot. Don Juan has a history of experiments since its creation and the Byron is feeding into that and using it to his advantage. References in the ‘dedication’ at the beginning of the cantos ties Don Juan to the romantic period but the character itself keeps the poem an essential piece of literature. 

Emotions in ‘Persuasion’

Jane Austen depicts the dangers that develop when reading poetry in her novel ‘Persuasion.’ Benwick engrosses himself with poetry to overcome his fiance’s death. While speaking with Anne, the reader can deduce Benwick finds closure in poetry due to it’s ability to describe deep emotions that carry him. On the other hand Anne considers the “misfortune of poetry” to be the production of emotions that consume the reader of poetry completely. To Anne being consumed by poetry means to the reader an absolute loss of self, one becomes too inverted. Anne believes there are emotions that are necessary to exam poetry correctly are the same “feelings which ought to taste it… sparingly.” Anne distances herself from the disappointment that came with choosing what would be best for her family’s reputation other than her own happiness with Wentworth earlier in her life. She became “prude” at an early age because she did not realize love until late in her age, Anne was not able to be consumed by love in the carelessness that comes with youth. Anne distances herself from poetry to preserve a mentality free of too much emotion, even though it seems as if through out the novel she is sulking, that would cause her to become distress like Benwick.