Porphyro’s ‘Ancient Ditty’: Text and Topology in The Eve of St Agnes/‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’

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This article explores non-orientable textualities and self-quotation in Romantic poetry, focusing on two of John Keats’s major poems: The Eve of St Agnes and ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’. It proposes that an intricate web of intertextuality between Keats’s romance and ballad can be conceptualized in topological terms. Central to this approach is the application of the Klein bottle—a single-sided, non-orientable structure—as a model for understanding the complex ways in which the two poems are connected to themselves and each other. The analysis is extended to include the reflexive dynamics of Robert Burns’s bawdy song, ‘Nine Inch Will Please a Lady’ and Richard Roos’s Middle English translation of Alain Chartier’s ‘La Belle Dame sans Mercy’. Finally, the essay argues that Keats’s romance and ballad can be envisioned not as distinct literary works but rather as topological regions on a larger, continuous textual surface—a spatial paradigm that has the potential to provide a fresh lens for examining intertextual literature more widely.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhgad082
Pages (from-to)843-859
Number of pages17
JournalThe Review of English Studies
Issue number317
Early online date17 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2023


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