La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad by John Keats

La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad

by John Keats

 About John Keats … John Keats (1795-1821) died young leaving behind a blazing trail of rich romantic poetry. Although his poems didn’t receive the acclaim and appreciation during his short life span of just 25 years, years after his death the public realized their style and their worth. No wonder, Keats came to be adored by the readers in the same way as they admired Shelly and Byron.

Keats makes brilliant use of rich imagery for many of his great poems. The poems ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, ‘Sleep and Poetry’ are suffused with creatively crafted scenes that appear so riveting to the readers.

Keats succumbed to tuberculosis and died a painful death in Rome. Death came to him slowly consuming him bit by bit. For a deeply emotional and romantic person like Keats, the last days of pain, relentless coughing of blood, and the fear of imminent death must have been very distressing indeed.

Keats is remembered for his compilation of poems and letters that appeared from time to time.



First stanza ..

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

       Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge has withered from the lake,

       And no birds sing.


2nd stanza..

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.


3rd stanza..

I see a lily on thy brow,

       With anguish moist and fever-dew,

And on thy cheeks a fading rose

       Fast withereth too.


4th stanza ..

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.


5th stanza ..

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


6th stanza…

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.


7th stanza …

She found me roots of relish sweet,

       And honey wild, and manna-dew,

And sure in language strange she said—

       ‘I love thee true’.


8th stanza .. 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.


9th stanza …And there she lullèd me asleep,

       And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—

The latest dream I ever dreamt

       On the cold hill side.


10th stanza…

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!’


11th stanza ..

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.


12th stanza …

And this is why I sojourn here,

       Alone and palely loitering,

Though the sedge is withered from the lake,

       And no birds sing.


Meaning of the poem…

1st stanza .. The speaker (not identified) discovers a valiant king lying helplessly in a hill side. His face looks bleak, and dark, and his limbs are sapped. He appears to be on the verge of death. The terrain also looks depressing, and withered. The gloom is pervasive.

2nd stanza .. The inquisitive speaker asks the miserable king why he looks so drained and lifeless, especially when there has been a good harvest and everyone is happy.

3rd stanza .. The speaker sees agony and distress writ large on the face of the grief-stricken king’s face. There is clear sign that his once glowing and radiant face has become sullen and glum.

4th stanza .. The dying king replies that he had met a damsel who was a paragon of beauty, while moving abut in the meadows. She had long cascading hair, and a beautifully shaped leg. Her eyes were bright and radiant with passion.

5th stanza … He made a garland and a bracelet for her out beautiful wild flowers. The maiden accepted the gifts and reciprocated the king’s overture with amorous glances. Clearly, she was in love with the king.

6th stanza … The amorous king made the beautiful maid sit on his horse, and rode off. All through the journey, his eyes were transfixed on her, as he could see nothing else in the surroundings. The maid bent sideways and sang songs to the king. This made the king more enamored of her. His mind became e awash with love for her.

7th stanza .. She could spot roots and honey along the way that both partook of. She averred that she loved him.

8th stanza .. She escorted him to inside the Elfin cave. She wept in love there and the king made every effort to comfort her with all tenderness and passion. He kissed her repeated to assure her of his love.

9th stanza .. The king narrates how she made him fall asleep inside the cave. While asleep, he saw some very dreadful dreams. He found himself in the cold hill side.

10th stanza .. In the dream, the king saw many warriors, kings, and valiant heroes. They all narrated how the devious woman had bewitched all of them, and robbed them of their strength, pride, fortune, and valour.

11th stanza .. The king could see the faces of the disgraced warriors looking pale, shattered, and shorn of dignity. They all looked defeated and cheated.

12th stanza .. The king, drained of his vitality saw himself wandering aimlessly around the lakeside, totally crestfallen, and broken. The terrain looked so ghoulishly silent and bereft of any activity.

[To be contd.]


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