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Saturday, April 27, 2013

"La Belle Dame sans Merci"......

is a haunting poem by John Keates about an Arthurian knight put in thrall by a beautiful woman of magical powers. I love the medieval-style writing and way that both the natural world and the supernatural world are shown as being easily accesable to one another. It also holds forth a warning, to guard one's passions least they lead you astray......

La Belle Dame sans Merci

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

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
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,
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,
And her eyes were wild.

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

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,
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 sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill 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!’

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

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

"And her eyes were wild....."


  1. Isn't "La Belle Dame" a great poem! Young folks can enjoy it as a nice Halloween-ish ghost story - what a shock to the narrator to realize that he has been talking to a ghost! -- while adults understand the caution.

    One cannot say that any given Romantic poet is better than another, except in a strictly personal sense, but Keats is far less strident than Shelley and far saner than poor Byron.

    In my left coat pocket the small Everyman anthology of Keats shares space with a rosary, and in those frequent moments of waiting in lines or while taking a coffee break I delight in exploring Keats' world as much as he delighted in Chapman's Homer's "western islands."

    Thank you for sharing "La Belle Dame" (I used to date her, you know).

    - Mack in Texas

  2. A haunting, lovely poem, Pearl! Thank you for sharing it!

    ~Do you have any idea as to the artist behind the picture? John William Waterhouse, perhaps? It strongly reminds me of some of his other works.~

  3. Hi, Mack and Meredith!

    I'm glad you both enjoyed the poem. I think the Great Romantic Poets had an amazing gift, and I admire their skill (if not their personal lives!) a great deal. Mack, keeping an anthology of Keats on your person no doubt serves as a great source of inspiration for your own poetic endeavors!

    Meredith, I am sure who painted this picture, although it's pretty famous and often reproduced. In fact, a copy of it hung in our local antique mall for years before finally being purchased by some lucky buyer! I will go on the hunt, though, and hopefully return with the answer.....If anyone knows in the meantime, feel free to post the name of the mystery-artist!


  4. None other than one of my favourite artists, John William Waterhouse :). (The painting is called "La Belle Dame sans Merci")

  5. Many thanks, Pearl! But I'm happy to report that I ended up doing some research of my own and succeeded in confirming his identity;-) The artist is indeed John William Waterhouse, an artist who worked chiefly throughout the Victorian era.(He is also behind a lot of other famous paintings, such as the well-known "Lady of Shalott"-- I'm sure that you would recognize it once you saw it:-)