Daily Archives: January 21, 2011

Sans Merci – Finding Good Poetry


I’ll be honest: I am not much of a poetry person.  I am not even sure I know what that means, other than if you want to know who to read when it comes to poems, you shouldn’t come to me.  I am more of an epic poetry sort of person.  But I do have a few favorite non-epic poems that have struck my fancy.



Keats’s poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is one of those such poems.



I had never heard of the poem until I saw a poster of John Waterhouse’s painting with the same title.  It was the most romantic and beautiful painting I had ever seen. I determined to learn everything that I could about it.  And that is when I discovered Keats’s poem:



Original version of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1819

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Oh 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 lulled 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
Hath thee in thrall!’

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 withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.


Such poetic genius and beauty only reinforced my love for that painting and any other painting done under that title.  Of them, however,  John Waterhouse’s rendition is by far the most moving.