Compare La Belle Dame Sans Merci and A Trampwoman’s Tragedy

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The ballads La Belle Dame Sans Merci and A Trampwoman’s Tragedy at first appear similar; they both have what could be interpreted as love and a possible death however these are left ambiguous, they also have similar dreamy or illusive nature to them and an innocence conveyed by the main characters in each. The two ballads were written more than 80 years apart from each other yet have many similarities.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci was written On Wednesday 21st April 1819 as a letter to George and Georgiana Keats form John Keats (1795-1821) John Keats was born in Finsbury Pavement in London. He was showing signs of tuberculosis in 1820, his mother and brother had already died of the disease, and he died two years later of the disease. There are two versions of this very famous ballad the first version is from the original manuscript and the second version is its first published form.

A Trampwoman’s Tragedy was written in 1902 by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) This poem, as we know from The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, despite initial rejection by the Cornhill Magazine as unsuitable for a family periodical, it was eventually published in the North American Review in November 1903 Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet in the parish of Stinsford to the east Dorchester in of Dorset. He fell ill in 1927 with pleurisy and died in 1928. The ballad is based on the story of Mary Ann Taylor, who had already been dead some fifty years when Hardy, returning from a bicycle ride to Glastonbury, Somerset, sat down to write the poem at Max Gate.

In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the knight appears innocent, he comes across a woman in the meads “I met a lady in the meads”, she was on her own and aimlessly standing around “alone and palely loitering” this could create innocence for the woman also; it could present her as suspicious.

In the Trampwoman’s Tragedy, herself, mother lee, jeering john and her fancy man were all walking north. The trampwoman unlike the knight in la belle dame sans merci is not innocent, she is married to her “fancy-man” (fancy-man: common-law husband, or a man living off the earnings of a prostitute.) but she teased and had relations with “jeering John”, “lone inns we loved, my man and I” she knew that her husband knew “my lover’s dark distress” yet did not seem to care

In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the love is between the knight and the lady, “she look’d at me as she did love” this implies that she looked deep into his eyes with a loving nature. She later tells him again, not directly spoken, but implied somehow, “and sure in language strange she said- ‘I love the true'” she says I love the true but it may not be true, the title In La Belle Dame Sans Merci translates to the beautiful woman without mercy.

Love in trampwoman’s tragedy is less so, she refers to her husband as her “fancy-man” this implies that she is married to him but does not love him and may only want a short term relationship, however she later calls him lover “my lovers dark distress” but this is only after she had laid John’s hand on her waist “laid his hand my waist upon” so this could have been guilt. I laid his hand my waist upon. This love triangle is a prime example of courtly love.

In La Belle Dame Sans Merci there is an ambiguous death, “she took me to her elfin grot” they went somewhere private. The knight then goes on to say “I shut her wild wild eyes with kisses four.” This implies he killed her because she was out of control. In the next stanza he says “and there she lulled me asleep and there I dream’d-Ah! Woe betide! The latest dream I ever dream’d on the cold hill side.” This could be the thought of her lulled him to sleep and the picture of her he has in his head when she was alive. “On cold hillside” this suggests he is cold and alone on the hillside. He appears to be regretting killing her.

In A Trampwoman’s Tragedy there is a definite death unlike La Belle Dame Sans Merci where the killing is ambiguous. “And with his knife he let out jeering Johnny’s life.” This states that he (the fancy-man) pulls out a knife and kills John. This could either be out of jealousy or just to keep him away from his wife.

In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the knight has a dream “I saw pale kings, and princes too, Pale warriors, death-pale were they all; who cry’d–La belle Dame sans merci hath thee in thrall! I saw their starv’d lips in the gloam with horrid warning gaped wide, and I awoke, and found me here on the cold hill side” this is after he kills the lady he dreams, maybe this is a vision of hell for him realising what he has done to the lady.

In A Trampwoman’s tragedy there is also a dreamy nature, the repeating of some phrases “The taverns tell the gloomy tale, the gloomy tale” “Thereaft I walked the world alone, alone, alone!” this may suggest that the trampwoman, mother lee, jeering John and her Fancy-man are all exhausted, the repetitive echo presents this.

Even though two different people wrote these two ballads over 80 years apart they are very similar in the tone, the style and the emotions conveyed. The structure of them is also similar they both have an ending which is linked to the beginning. However they do also differ in ways, in A Trampwoman’s Tragedy the death of john is clear and obvious but in La Belle Dame Sans Merci the death is left ambiguous. Overall the two ballads are similar in many ways but differ slightly in the direct facts given.

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