200 years ago Keats wrote ‘La belle dame sans merci’

On Wednesday 21 April 1819 Keats wrote:

La belle dame sans merci—

O what can ail thee Knight at arms
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is 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 cheek 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 look’d 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 sigh’d full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four—

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d 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
Who cried La belle dame sans merci
Thee hath in thrall.

I saw their starv’d 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—………

Why four kisses—you will say—why four because I wish to restrain the headlong impetuosity of my Muse—she would have fain said “score” without hurting the rhyme—but we must temper the Imagination as the Critics say with Judgment. I was obliged to choose an even number that both eyes might have fair play, and to speak truly I think two a piece quite sufficient. Suppose I had said seven there would have been three and a half a piece—a very awkward affair, and well got out of on my side—

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