The Beautiful and Unmerciful Daughter of the King





la-belle-dam-sans-merci-waterhouseO woe before I was king
I was an errant knight
a loitering about
the wasteland you see
And that’s when I came upon her
a maiden I thought
in dire distress
and in sore need of me

Save my children
she did cry
from the brute down yonder
under the lauralie tree
And I did this married woman
a good deed that day
and dispatched the lout
to eternity

For payment
her young sons
worshiped me
like the father they long deserved
They made a victor’s wreath
out of ivy and wild flowers
and gently placed it
on my peaceful head
Come nightfall
she took me to her bed

Many years later
when my father’s crown
was placed over my serene brow
a fair and beautiful maiden
came riding
And she swore a vow.
A vow so baneful
and so full of dread
it left deep furrows
on my regal forehead

‘O father look what you have done
when you did my mother fair
a good deed
that was such a dreadful thing
done unto to me
For I a princess
was born outside
your realm of errant knights
and thus I swear not one
will survive
my terrible blight

You have sewn the seeds
of your own destruction.
I la Belle Daughter
of a king
will have no merci
on thee and thine
Not this day
nor any day
to come

One by one
I will beguile
every good knight
till every man
who lifts a sword
will only do so
in defense of me

Come nightfall
your once brave
and now disloyal knights
will be found
on yonder hillside
with lilies
placed upon their pale
once rosy cheeks
You best be warned
I will
have my fun

The Beautiful and Unmerciful Daughter of the King


Jon Presco

La Belle Dame sans Merci (French: “The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy”[1] ) is a ballad written by the English poet John Keats. It exists in two versions, with minor differences between them. The original was written by Keats in 1819. He used the title of a 15th century poem by Alain Chartier, though the plots of the two poems are different.[2] The poem is considered an English classic, stereotypical to other of Keats’ works. It avoids simplicity of interpretation despite simplicity of structure. At only a short twelve stanzas, of only four lines each, with a simple ABCB rhyme scheme, the poem is nonetheless full of enigmas, and has been the subject of numerous interpretations.

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
Hath thee 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.

In Other Media[edit]

Visual depictions[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to La Belle Dame sans Merci.

“La Belle Dame sans Merci” was a popular subject for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. It was depicted by Sir Frank Dicksee, Frank Cadogan Cowper, John William Waterhouse, Arthur Hughes, Walter Crane, and Henry Maynell Rheam. It was also satirized in the December 1, 1920 edition of Punch magazine.

Musical settings[edit]

The best-known musical setting is that by Charles Villiers Stanford. It is a dramatic interpretation requiring a skilled (male) vocalist and equally skilled accompanist. It has remained popular and is included on many anthologies of English song or British Art Music recorded by famous artists. Patrick Hadley also wrote a version for tenor, four-part chorus, and orchestra.


The 1915 American film The Poet of the Peaks was based upon the poem.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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