Poetic Favourites #1



La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Ballad by John Keats

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!

  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,

  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,

  Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
  And no birds sing.

*   *   *

When I returned to my post secondary education a second time, in order to upgrade my English teaching credentials, I was introduced to this magnificent ballad.  Since then, it has remained one of my all time favourites.  If a poet tried to make a living writing in Keats’ style in this day and age, he or she would not be taken seriously – and that’s a shame. 

The juxtaposition of overt simplicity and depth of passion are well highlighted with Keats’ choice in vocabulary.

What do you like best about this poem?

What is your favourite stanza?


Categories: Poetry

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