Romantics, Pre-Raphs, and Edgar Allan Poe(-etry)

I’m working on a new piece – a modern revisioning of the most tragic-romantic poem from that most tragic-Romantic of English poets, John Keats:

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Oh what can ail thee Knight-at-arms
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the Lake
And no birds sing.

Oh what can ail thee Knight-at-arms
So haggard, and so woe begone?
The Squirrel’s granary is full
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a Lady in the Meads
Full beautiful, a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone,
She look’d at me as she did love
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend and sing
A Faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said
I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept and sigh’d full sore,
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d, Ah! Woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale Kings, and Princes too,
Pale warriors, death pale were they all;
They cried, La belle dame sans merci,
Thee hath 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’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering;
Though the sedge is withered from the Lake
And no birds sing …

Who can go past a good Gothic tale? It’s got everything – sex, drugs (what else do you call enchantment?), someone strong and proud dying young. It was, unsurprisingly, a favourite subject for the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. And yes, I’m a sucker for the Pre-Raphs – poetry, as well as painting. One of the first books of poetry I was ever given was Christina Rossetti‘s Doves and Pomegranates (bless you, Aunt Betsy), and the love affair has continued.

In my version, the Knight-at-arms is a taxi driver, and our Belle Dame a midnight fare … and the bloody earthquake has worked itself in there too, dammit. (No, not like that. Although I have to confess the very early drafts threatened to head down the horny-hitchhiker route that was so beloved of those magazines we girls weren’t supposed to know our male relatives kept stashed around the house … really guys, a bit of originality in your choice of hiding places!) The co-incidence of Gothic Poem and Broken City is probably going to be inescapable, so I just have to try and make it work for the poem.

I started writing it as a possible entry for the Keats-Shelley comp, but it seems I’m maintaining my usual success rate with poems for that purpose. Sigh! Oh well. But right at the moment I’m having a glorious time, wallowing in the writing. I’ve got photos and paintings pinned up around my writing chair; a couple of drops of patchouli oil in the diffuser; and five tracks from The Alan Parsons Project‘s Tales Of Mystery And Imagination on repeat on my iPod. The whole album is an extended to homage to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, which fits rather nicely. The exact songs, for those who are curious:

The Fall of the House of Usher –
ii. Arrival
iii. Intermezzo
iv. Pavane
v. Fall
To One in Paradise.

Music I love, art I adore, and the requirement that I wallow in the sort of gothic-romantic-eerie stories that are my (not-so) secret vice. For hours at a time.

And this is my day job.

3 Replies to “Romantics, Pre-Raphs, and Edgar Allan Poe(-etry)”

  1. Hi, (off topic) found a book you might like “An exaltation of larks” by James Lipton. More than a thousand collective nouns. How about ‘A Scrutiny of Sisters’


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