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By John Keats

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

       Thee hath 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.


Notes:

POL participants and judges: in this poem's third-to-last stanza, recitations that include “Hath thee in thrall!” or “Thee hath in thrall!” are both acceptable.

Source: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 1988)

  • Living
  • Love
  • Mythology & Folklore

Poet Bio

John Keats
John Keats was born in London, where he was raised by a merchant after his father died when he was 10, and his mother died when he was 15. Before Keats’s tragically early death at age 25, he was already celebrated as one of the prominent Romantic poets. He produced some of the most memorable poems of his time, including “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and the epic “Hyperion.”

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