John Keats, La Belle Dame

John Keats (1795 -1821) poems reflect his premonition of mortality (he would die at the age of 26 from tuberculosis). This premonition perhaps arises from the early deaths in Keats life of his father and mother, when Keats was 8 and 14.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

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.

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!’

An excerpt from La Belle Dame Sans Merci written by John Keats in 1819.

Keats’ poem  was composed in a letter to his brother George in America two years before his death. The words are purposefully vague, suggesting a theme of chivalry and unrequited love. Both the knight and lady are mysterious figures whose thoughts and actions are largely unexplained, so typical of Romantic poets of the 19th century reacting against the harsh reality of the Enlightenment. ‘Twas Keats who said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that’s all ye need to know…”

La Belle Dame Sans Merci translates to the “Lady without Mercy”.