24 September 2008

Visualizing Keats

Some poems for me are not truly complete unless they are accompanied with a famous painting realizing them. Such for me is Keats’s 1819 poem “Le Belle Dame Sans Merci: A Ballad” and the eponymous 1893 painting from John William Waterhouse. Appropriately enough, this painting adorned the cover of one of my favorite fantasy novels, The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany.

I adore Keats’s poem no matter the circumstances, but I think it stings all the more poignantly if you concludes a reading of it with looking at the Waterhouse painting. And so, here are both, in the order I think they should be enjoyed.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A Ballad

I.
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

II.
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.

III.
I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

IV.
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.

V.
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.

VI.
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.

VII.
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”

VIII.
She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

IX.
And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side.

X.
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!”

XI.
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

XII.
And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.