Sunday, 30 October 2011

In The World of John Keats' "La Belle Dame sans Merci"

One of my favourite poems by John Keats, one not written in his usual style either, has to be La Belle Dame sans Merci ('The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy'). It is a piece which is all fey, all faerie... And yet there is a hint of the very real death Keats was facing at the time he wrote this.

I've always wondered who the beautiful lady without mercy represented to Keats; and I've often thought that the knight-at-arms must be a representation of Keats himself, one who is so 'in thrall' upon encountering the lady in the meads (meadows) that he follows her further and further into dark and bewitching realms until he is lost to reality altogether.

Always an inspiration to read, savour and simply take you back to times Romantic (in the classical sense), here is Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci for your reading pleasure: 

La Belle Dame sans Merci

By John Keats

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
       Thee hath 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.

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