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La Belle Dame Sans Merci
(Translation: a beautiful woman without mercy)

Artist: Sir Frank Dicksee, Painting Date: 1902 (?)


The poem by John Keats tells of a knight-at-arms who is doomed by a chance meeting in the meads with a beautiful lady. Enthralled by her sensual allure, he sets her upon his steed and spends the day bewitched by her enchanting company. He falls into a trance to be haunted by ghostly echoes of the lady's other victims and awakes from his magical slumber to find himself alone on a cold and barren hillside where no birds sing.


La Belle Dame Sans Merci
By John Keats

"O what can ail thee, night-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;
And on thy cheek 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 look'd 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 sideways would she lean,
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 elfin grot,
And there she wept and sigh'd full sore;
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes,
With kisses four.
"And there she lulléd me to asleep,
And there I dream'd––– Ah! Woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream'd
On the cold hill side.

"I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cried–––"La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!"
"I saw their starved lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gapéd 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,
Through the sedge has wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing."


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