Although Keats’s ballad, “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” is written in traditional verse while D. H. Lawrence’s piece, “Snake,” is written in free verse, both poems are centered around a high point or a climax. To achieve this, both authors vary the tone the poem creates at certain points to create tension and drama, which eventually reaches a point of climax. The rhythm and pace change as the story line varies in intensity. The climax of each work occurs in the middle-to-end section of the poem and is indicated by the change in language or mood. The deliberate decision by the author to highlight that turning point in the narrative is marked by a shift in writing style.
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In the romantic ballad, “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” Keats maintains a very formal, traditional structure using simple language and concise sentences. The poem has a sing-song-y lilt to it as the general meter is iambic pentameter. What is interesting, however, is how the fourth line of each stanza diverges from this pattern and has no distinct rhyme. In addition, the work is cyclical in form: the first few stanzas are written in the same way before changing as the poem progresses, entering the middle section and the climax of the story, before ending in a similar fashion to the way it began. The climax in “La Belle Dame sans Merci” is the high point because it is the only moment in which the writing differs, the repetition stops, and the perspective changes. The first three stanzas are devoted to an unnamed narrator’s introduction to the story’s protagonist, a “lonely knight-at-arms” who is asked by the unspecified narrator why the knight is feeling emotional anguish. The next few stanzas are the knight’s response, letting the reader know that he “met a lady in the meads”. He rapidly fell in love with this “faery’s child” and thought she loved him too. The climax or high point of the poem comes next as the action turns. The plot intensifies as the mysterious-supernatural-like woman takes the knight to her “elfin grot” and lulls him to sleep. Keats has been building up to his point in the action when a move is made in the relationship between the knight and his lover (stanzas VIII-IX). In this section of the poem, the stanzas are framed around what “she” did instead of what the knight experienced. The change from the first person perspective exaggerates the events as the lady becomes the principal figure. The repetition in lines found in the start and end of the poem is not found during the climax, making stanza VIII all the more prominent. Keats points to this stanza because it is the turning point in the relationship between the woman and the knight. Before she took him to her territory, they were in love (stanzas I-VII), and after that moment, he was alone (IX-XI). In stanzas VIII-IX, Keats reveals that the mysterious woman did not really love the knight, and he points that out by using no repetition, making the woman the primary character, and writing in the third person perspective.
In D. H. Lawrence’s work, “Snake,” he writes his narrative in free verse, using elaborate, drawn-out language to illustrate his points. The climax in “Snake” is the moment in which the narrator impulsively acts on his inner “accursed education” voice and attempts to harm the snake. The beginning of the poem slowly builds until the narrator says: “I looked round, I put down my pitcher, /I picked up a clumsy log/And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter”. Lawrence points to this critical moment because in the beginning, the work is written in a sluggish, relaxed tone, as lengthy adjective are used (“yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down”) to describe the snake. Long phrases coupled with “soft” verbs, like “trailedâ€¦softly drankâ€¦silently” give the poem a slow pace, a flowing rhythm, and a peaceful mood. Lawrence frequently repeats the “ssss” hissing sound of the snake like when saying “slackness soft-bellied downâ€¦slack long bodyâ€¦ softly drankâ€¦silently”. Just as the snake was “peaceful, pacified, and thankless,” the poem began in a pacifying way to describe the tranquility of the picturesque scene. As the conflict inside the protagonist continued over whether to kill the supposed venomous snake, the pace and rhythm quickened and the “ssss” soft sounds faded away. When the narrator bombards himself with questions: “was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured,” the sense of slowness is abandoned. Building to the climax and turning point of “Snake,” the narrator finally crumbles and decides to impulsively throw a log at the snake in a clumsy attempt to kill the creature. The unhurried pace quickens as “soft” verbs are replaced with “sharp” ones, like “convulsing” and “writhed like lightening”. The rhythm picks up, lengthy adjectives are no longer found, and the tone takes on a spur-of-the-moment-air. The poem ends in the opposite manner to the way it began: the sense of lethargy neglected because the poem’s intensity had built up until the narrator cracked under the pressure of his inner voice.
Both “Snake” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci” have high points that signal the reader that a dramatic event and a change in the action is taking place. In “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” the climax comes into the circular scheme which Keats has envisioned. The poem is very balanced and ends in the same tone as it begins. “Snake,” however, begins as a lazy hot day and builds until the hot day is sharpened with a bucket of cold water before that icy water cools down as the poem ends. All in all, the high point in each narrative is an intense and emotional moment for each protagonist whether the moment is about a lost love or an unfulfilled opportunity.
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