Wednesday, 8 February 2012

More Yoghurt: La Belle Dame Won't Let Me Quit

Today's poem is another corker from Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci". The poem is open to many interpretations but I cannot seem to find any that match my own. Ostensibly the poem is about a knight who appears to have been broken by his pursuit of a fairy lady, who said she loved him, but did not. It ties in nicely with this Freakonomics podcast: "The Upside Of Quitting". My interpretation is that of a young person who followed their dreams to the best of their ability but who did not achieve it.

There are two economic ideas that support the idea of quitting:

Sunk Cost: retrospective costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered.
Opportunity Cost: the cost of making one choice over another.

In the article above baseball players who do not make it to the big leagues end up, economically speaking, significantly worse than people from the same socio-economic background. This is because the opportunity cost of chasing their baseball dream is that of going to college and/or getting experience in a profession they would choose. Many who go down this path may also stick with it for too long because when they do quit they will have wasted all the years of training and coaching.

Quitting is great advice for someone who has spent two years studying Law and does not enjoy it. They can switch to Accountancy or Teaching. What if the choice that you are pursuing is a talent. This could include football, rugby, singing, and so on. The lure of success and fame in these pursuits are usually only available to a person in one of them - "The latest dream I ever dream'd".  Also, even if the percentage chance of succeeding is quite low, your expected value could still be much greater in fame-based disciplines - which is why we will never run out of reality tv contestants.

Take football* as an example. A young player would be told nothing but good thins when teams are looking to join them. They work hard in pursuit of their dream.They only have one thing in mind. Then one day they realise that they may not be good enough.They try to work harder but do not succeed. Which is worse is that their talent, that had once made them special, is now tainted with failure.

* I think the Just Jack song "Starz In Their Eyes" has a similar theme but for reality TV stars. 

Enjoy this one read by Ben Whishaw with words below:


O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.


O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms! 5
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.


I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew, 10
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.


I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light, 15
And her eyes were wild.


I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan. 20


I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.


She found me roots of relish sweet, 25
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”


She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore, 30
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.


And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d 35
On the cold hill’s side.


I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!” 40


I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.


And this is why I sojourn here, 45
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

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