Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Friday, April 24, 2009

La Belle Dame Sans Merci - Another Diversion

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Oh 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 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!'

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.

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

La Belle Dame Sans Merci ( the beautiful woman without pity) is one of the sidhe, a beautiful faery woman who lures men to the Otherworld of faeryland. If a man kisses one of the sidhe then he is doomed to wander in the madness of love and never return to a normal life in the world of mortals. The knight in the poem is only one of many unsuspecting men who have fallen for her wiles and now languish on the hillside as pale shades of their former selves.

There are two versions of Keats' poem and the one I've used is the original written in 1819.
The illustrations are by Sir Frank Dicksee, Arthur Hughes, John William Waterhouse and Frank Cadogan Cowper. All are Pre-Raphaelite artists who were often inspired by medieval themes in poetry. Of the four paintings my favourite is the last one by Frank Cadogan Cowper and surprisingly, considering how much I love the work of John William Waterhouse, his is the one I like least. The original 'diversion' of the title is here for anyone who is interested.


Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

Hello Rowan,

An entrancing poem! I think I prefer the first picture. Very romantic and the knight is clearly enthralled whereas he could be dead in the last one, which would be rather sad!

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog after "accidentally" hitting "earth-based spirituality" under my interests. I have yet to catch up on past entries, but I love what I have read so far. The above poem is one of my favorites!

Janet said...

I agree with you....I like the last picture best. But they're all beautiful.

Ruthie Redden said...

thank you for that achingly beautiful interlude in my aftrenoon. wonderful paintings too, wish i could paint like that, sigh

Elizabeth Rhiannon said...

Thank you for giving us that moment of beauty. I also love Waterhouse and enjoyed this thoroughly :)

PAT said...

This is beautiful Rowan. You are so good with your presentations!!

Diane said...

Beautiful Rowan. Did you used to be a teacher?

FireLight said...

Beautiful post!! I adore the Pre-Raphaelite art. Have you ever heard Canadian singer Loreena McKinnet's version of The Lady of Shallot set to music? It is not the only classic she has done, but it is one of my favorites. The best way to describe her interpretation is to say it perfectly complements the paintings here.

FireLight said...

Well, guess who read the Original Diversion after she made a comment here?
(chuckling at my silly self)

Granny Sue said...

Lovely, Rowan. Thank you. What images this creates in my mind.

Rosie said...

Lovely but sad poems that conjour up so many images - I'm sure I appreciate them and understand them more now than when we did them at school. The pre-raphelite illustrations help add to the mystery of them - I love the Waterhouse paitings here and on the Lady of Shallot post. The colours in the dresses seem to shimmer with light.

Val said...

Thanks for the lovely Pre-Raphaelite images. I can remember the delight of seeing the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition in London a few years ago. All the famous paintings in one place. I nearly overdosed. What a delight it was, but so many in one place was almost too much!

Bovey Belle said...

Lovely. Tam has pictures 1 and 3 on her bedroom wall and we are very fond of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I was just wondering, do you know of anyone who is looking for a swap partner? I am longing to join in on this swapping lark, so any help you could give me would be greatly appriciated.

Thanks So Much
Melanie xx

Sarah Head said...

Thank you for reminding me of both the poem and the paintings, Rowan. My office is just around the corner from the Birmingham Museum and Gallery, so I often go up there at lunchtime to look at the pictures. They recently had an exhibition of the Burne Jones Grail Tapestries, which were stunning.

Anonymous said...

One of my favourite poets and one of my favourite artists
I love The pre-Raphaelites, am such a romantic.
Listening to your music on here today is lovely too, with the sun streaming in htrough the window.
Hope you have a lovely day

Anonymous said...

I am hosting a swap over on my site if you would like to join, please feel free to pop over and take a look.
Take Care
Love Melanie xxx

Sheila said...

I don't think I could choose between the paintings,each one is romantic and beautiful,
each complimenting Keat's poem.

Julie said...

Rowan - You taught me something new! LBDSM is one of my most favorite poems, but I did not know LBD was a sidhe. And in March I did extensive research on The Sidhe (it was going to be for my March is Celtic Month but I lost my final draft and was too depressed to re-write it.)

Love all those paintings too.

hen said...

oh this is so beautiful :) I used to lose hours as a child gazing at these Pre-Raphaelite paintings!