1> In the twenty-first century, John Keats's canonical poem "La Belle Dame sans Merci" has been given new lives through visual adaptations. [i] Hidetoshi Oneda's fifteen-minute film (2005), which adds a ship-wreck frame narrative that doubles the poem's existing frame narrative, was the first of several short movie versions of "La Belle Dame."[ii] Amidst these cinematic adaptations, in 2013 PM Buchanan and Karen Yumi Lusted began publishing a serialized graphic narrative anime version that, according to one reviewer, "drags The Beautiful Lady out of the forest and screaming into the modern world."[iii] Buchanan and Lusted's adaptation has received considerable fanfare in the midst of a print and digital poetry comics boom that has brought Julian Peters's and Neil Cohn's versions of "La Belle Dame" to an international audience.[iv]
23> Both of Cohn's versions also emphasize the temporal significance of "HERE" by rendering only the last two lines of the eleventh stanza on the tenth page. Version one returns to the young knight in the large first panel by repeating his horror struck expression from the nightmare warning in the previous page's last panel: "WITH HORRID WARNING GAPED WIDE,".
[i] Canonical refers to how long and widely Keats's poem has been taught and anthologized at the university level. My use of canonical also refers to the longstanding scholarly preference for Keats's April 1819 epistolary, "knight-at-arms" version over his May 1820 Examiner, "wretched wight" version.
[ii] See https://www.youtube.com. For another recent production, see Christopher Smith's short, silent movie Arterial (2014) https://vimeo.com. YouTube is host to several low-budget, movie adaptations of the poem. For examples, see John Keats-La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Short Film https://www.youtube.com and La Belle Dame Sans Merci-Short Horror Film https://www.youtube.com. See also a version of the poem read by Ben Wishaw with a slide show from Jane Campion's Bright Star (2009): https://www.youtube.com. According to Suzie Grogan, a new film adaptation by Michael Groom called Merciless Beauty is in pre-production: https://wordsworth.org.uk. A noteworthy precursor to these short films is Jonathan Glendening's 1996 six-minute, movie adaptation.
[iii] See http://www.brokenfrontier.com.
[iv] See volume two of the English and French versions of Russ Kick's edited collection, The Graphic Canon (NY: Seven Stories Press, 2012). Cohn's version two of "La Belle Dame" appears in the English publication while Peters's adaptation appears in the French publication. Peters's adaptation also has been shown in Rome's Keats house and can be found on his website: http://julianpeterscomics.com. For a recent interview with Peters, see: http://www.eyeartcollective.com. Cohn's versions can be found through links on his visual language lab website: http://www.visuallanguagelab.com. Poetry comics have been published since at least the 1960s in collections such as Joe Brainard's C Comics (NY: Boke Press, 1964), which involves several New York poets. In the 1980s Dave Morice published several poetry comics collections, beginning with Poetry Comics!: A Cartooniverse of Poems (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1982). The 21st century has seen a significant surge in published print and digital poetry comics, including Ink Brick, an electronic journal devoted to theorizing about and publishing poetry comics: http://inkbrick.com/. For an interview with the editors of this journal that deals with definitions, theories, and examples of contemporary poetry comics, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com. The following article also provides a survey of contemporary poetry comics artists: http://comicsalliance.com.
[v] These differing versions illustrate Linda Hutcheon's claim that with adaptations, "we seem to desire the repetition as much as the change." See A Theory of Adaptation, 2nd ed. (NY: Routledge, 2006), 9.
[vi] See "Deforming Keats' 'Ode on a Grecian Urn,'" Romantic Circles (October 2003): https://www.rc.umd.edu. Poetry comics necessarily involve ekphrastic and synesthetic forms that figure time as space. On Keats's poetics and ekphrasis, see Grant F. Scott's The Sculpted Word: Keats, Ekphrasis, and the Visual Arts (Hanover, NH: U. Press of New England, 1994), as well as Theresa Kelley's essays "Keats, Ekphrasis and History" in Keats and History, ed. Nicholas Roe (NY: Cambridge UP, 1995), 212-237 and "Keats and Ekphrasis" in The Cambridge Companion to Keats, ed. Susan Wolfson (NY: Cambridge UP, 2001), 170-185.
[vii] Numerous Romantic period scholars have examined the poem's textual histories, performative qualities, readerly appeals, ballad character, and un-fixability. Whether the April 1819 epistolary version (transcribed separately by Charles Brown and by Richard Woodhouse), or the May 1820 Examiner version-an un-decidability has kept many Romantic period scholars betwixt and between versions, which has led to the publication of both versions in many Romantic period anthologies. Increasingly, the poem's versions have come to define its anthologized, virtual life. See in particular, Jack Stillinger's The Hoodwinking of Madeline and Other Essays (Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 1971) and The Texts of Keats's Poems (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1974); Stuart Sperry's Keats the Poet (NJ: Princeton UP, 1973); Jerome McGann's "Keats and the Historical Method of Literary Criticism," Modern Language Notes 94.5 (1979): 988-1032, andThe Beauty of Inflections (NY: Oxford, 1985); Theresa Kelley's "Poetics and Politics of Reception: Keats's 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci," ELH 54.2 (1987): 333-362; Marjorie Levinson's Keats's Life of Allegory (NY: Blackwell, 1988); Karen Swann's "Writing the Female. Harassing the Muse" in Romanticism & Feminism, ed. Anne Mellor (Bloomington: Indian UP, 1988), 81-92; Andrew Bennett's Keats, Narrative and Audience (NY: Cambridge UP, 1994); and Chris Jones's "Knight or Wight in Keats's 'La Belle Dame,'" Keats-Shelley Review 19 (2005): 39-49.
[ix] Following in the tradition of S.T. Coleridge's and William Wordsworth's encounter poems, "La Belle Dame" depends upon what Susan Wolfson has called the questioning presence-both in the poem and in its readers. See The Questioning Presence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1986). In Keats's Life of Allegory (85-87), Levinson convincingly relates Keats's "La belle dame" to Wordsworth's poems of encounter. On the virtual life, bodily movement, and affective experience of reading Keats's poetry, see Jonathan Mulrooney's "Keats's Avatar," European Romantic Review 22.3 (2011): 313-321.
[x] I follow Frank Kermode's definitions of kairos in The Sense of an Ending (NY: Oxford UP, 1966) in which he discusses a tick-tock sense of time and juxtaposes chronos (successive, passing time) with kairos. For Kermode, kairos is an escape from chronological time, as well as a "significant season…poised between beginning and ending" that is meaningfully "charged with past and future" (46).
[xi] The exception to this print paradigm has been the anthologizing of paintings of the poem by John Waterhouse, Arthur Hughes, and Frank Dicksee. For an example of Dicksee's painting of the poem, see the cover image on Susan Wolfson's John Keats: A Longman Cultural Edition (NY: Pearson, 2007).
[xii] See "Language Strange: A Visual History of Keats's 'La Belle Dame sans Merci,'" Studies in Romanticism 38.4 (1999): 503-535. Notably, Scott points out that at the tail end of these visual adaptations, Germaine Dulac produced, in 1920, an eighty-minute silent film adaptation of the poem.
[xiii] Lithography is a printing process that reproduces oil-based, acid-resistant images and/or words from a smooth copy plate that has been etched with an acid that cuts into the areas on that plate not protected by the oil base. The result is a negative space that will bind with water but not with ink. After the entire surface of the plate is wetted with water, a new oil coating is rolled over the plate, resulting in the oil sticking to the already existing oil images on the plate and not to the negative area. That new oil coating can then be pressed onto a blank sheet of paper, producing a copy of the original plate. This extraction through water and oil plays out a chemical process that traces and reproduces the already visible anew. Without the interaction of these repellent forces, lithographic replication is not possible.
[xiv] Grant Scott mentions a pen and ink fan design, created in 1907 by Jessie King, as "the only rendering that conceives the ballad as a sequence" (532).
[xv] All quotations from "La Belle Dame" are from Jack Stillinger's John Keats Complete Poems (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1978).
[xvi] On deictics in Keats's poetry, see Mark Bruhn's "Place Deixis and the Schematics of Imagined Space: Milton to Keats," Poetics Today 26.3 (2005): 387-432.
[xvii] See Understanding Comics: The Invisible Arts (NY: Harper Perennial, 1994). McCloud's theorizing about comics builds on Will Eisner's Comics & Sequential Art (Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse Press, 1985). For a more recent study of comics history and poetics, see Charles Hatfield's Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature (Jackson: U. Press of Mississippi, 2005).
[xviii] For a discussion of visual rhyming that concerns these companion pages, see Cohn's http://www.visuallanguagelab.com.
[xx] Of further note is how Peters' and Cohn's versions illustrate the lady's "language strange" and the words "I love thee true."
[xxi] For a satirical comics adaptation of Coleridge's poem, see Hunt Emerson's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (London: Knockabout Comics, 1998).
[xxii] On the significance of birdsong and bird flight in Keats's poetry, see Andrew Lacey's "Wings of Poesy: Keats's Birds." Keats-Shelley Review 25.1 (2011): 13-19.
Brian Bates teaches at Cal Poly State University. His publications include a monograph, Wordsworth's Poetic Collections, Supplementary Writing and Parodic Reception (2012), and essays about Romantic Period authorship and poetics, performativity and parody, book history and media studies.