Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Georgian Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Georgian Verse.  1909.
 
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
By John Keats (1795–1821)
 
‘O WHAT 1 can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
  Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is 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 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,        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 sideways would she lean, 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 full sore;        30
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
  With kisses four.
 
‘And there she lullèd 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;
Who cried—“La belle Dame sans Merci
  Hath thee in thrall!”        40
 
‘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        45
  Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
  And no birds sing.’
 
Note 1. Cf. The Eve of St. Agnes, l. 292:
  “He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence call’d, ‘La belle dame sans mercy.’”
In the Indicator for May 10, 1820, Keats’ poem was first printed with the following prefatory note by Leigh Hunt: “Among the pieces printed at the end of Chaucer’s works and attributed to him, is a translation under this title (La Belle Dame, etc.) of a poem by the celebrated Alain Chartier…. It was the title which suggested to a friend the verses at the end of the present number.” Alain Chartier was the court poet of Charles II. of France. “The note,” says De Sélincourt, “prefixed to the poem, that M. Aleyn ‘framed this dialogue between a gentleman and a gentlewoman, who finding no mercy at her hand dieth for sorrow’ (vide Chalmers, English Poets, i. 518), may have given a further hint to Keats, but he could have found nothing suggestive in the poem itself, which is not only monotonous but totally devoid of real feeling.” [back]
 
 
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