La Belle Dame Sans Merci

La Belle Dam San Merci. Sir Frank Dicksee.


La Belle Dam Sans Merci

John Keats, 1820


O what can ail thee, wretched wight,

Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge is wither’d from the lake,

And no birds sing.


O what can ail thee, wretched wight,

So haggard and so wo-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 set her on my pacing steed,

And nothing else saw all day long,

For sidelong she would 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 full sore,

And there I shut her wild eyes

With kisses four.


And there she lulled me asleep

And there I dreamed—ah! woe betide!—

The latest dream I ever dreamt

On the cold hillside.


I saw pale kings and princes too,

Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;

They cried—”La Belle Dam Sans Merci

Hath thee in thrall!”


I saw their starved lips in the gloam,

With horrid warning gaped wide,

And 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.


A Little Poetry—”La Belle Dam Sans Merci” is translated “The Beautiful Lady without Mercy.” Much medieval literature involves a young knight being tempted by a beautiful woman who is actually an evil enchantress. Keat’s cautionary ballad reveals the plight of one who yielded.

A ‘wight’ is a ghost. A ‘grot’ is a grotto, a small cave. To have ‘in thrall’ is to have great power over another. The ‘gloam’ is twilight.