Thursday, September 28, 2017

La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A beloved ballad modernized for the digital age

John Keats (1795-1821)
John Keats wrote about a "knight at arms" (alternatively a "wretched wight") in thrall to a mysterious female spirit he called La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

After too much time wasted on my iPhone one day, I felt like that lonely fellow, somewhat drugged by fleeting digital attractions and a little depressed, alarmed at the pull of these devices, satisfying but ultimately alarming.

Where have I found in my reading such a dangerous pull toward separation into a fantasy environment  whose haunting peril is lent such mastery? There was one source only on which to attempt a modernized reflection on such matters.


So I've updated  the English poet's visionary ballad "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

Well, what can mess you up, old guy,
     Alone and palely loitering?
Your iPhone hosts a flock of tweets
     And no birds sing.

So what's your trouble, lazy man,
     So haggard from long scrolling?
Your count of "likes" is mounting up;
      There's little trolling.

Yet there's a shadow in your mind,
       Dull anguish on your how,
You've clicked on many a faded post
        Hours up to now.

The muse of social media
       Visits you, a child:
She leads you on, the hours fly,
      And her eyes are wild.

She tempts you onto Instagram
     And haunts Facebook and Twitter;
As you keep browsing your news feed
      Her wild eyes glitter.

You serve her bounty with your time,
      She makes the world seem new,
She is La Belle Dame Sans Merci:
       She loves you true.

The links you visit, shares you press,
        Thumbs-up and hearts you've posted:
Are those from friends known in the flesh
         Or merely ghosted?

A dream of connectivity
         With horrid warning wide
Has me in thrall; I wake and find
           No life beside.

And that is why I sojourn here
          Like millions; it's a thing
To tap and drowse: What's on our minds
          When no birds sing?