Laila Sumpton reads La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Reading Lamia

Keats’s third and final volume of poetry, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, was published in 1820, and contains many of the poems for which Keats is best known today, including the odes written in spring to autumn 1819. To mark the 200th anniversary of its publication, and to accompany our new online exhibition Keats’s Last Book,the Keats House Poets have picked their favourite Keats poem to read, and written their own original poetry as a response. We start this series with Laila Sumpton, who has chosen La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

Find out more about La BelleDame Sans Merci with our free online lectures.

Reading Lamia - a response

Laila says of her response to the poem:

Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci was recited to me as a child by my grandma, who had learned it from the nuns at her convent school in Kashmir. It was on my poetry syllabus at school and now when I read it as an adult it seemed full of frustration and the agony of a love which suddenly, seemingly without warning disappears - leaving you wondering if it was even real.
I read that the possible inspiration for this poem was from the time when Keats was nursing his dying brother Tom - who was receiving love letters from a woman called Amena, who turned out to be a man - Charles Wells. The shock of this apparently hastened his death, but there are lots of questions. Did Tom know he was writing to a man and pretend to be shocked due to the prejudice at the time? Did this man genuinely love Tom? Did this man have a female identity too? Did the woman realise what was happening and if so what was her role?
My poem for Keats200 is in the voice of Keats himself exploring these times and his own fears of being forgotten and unloved.

Laila Sumpton