Text of the Poem

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

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,     5
     So haggard and so woebegone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
     And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow
     With anguish moist and fever dew;     10
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,     15
     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.     20

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,     25
     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;     30
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
     With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
     And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d     35
     On the cold hill’s 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!”     40

I saw their starv’d 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,     45
     Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
     And no birds sing.


  1. The verb “to sojourn” means to stay in a place temporarily. Keats’s use of “sojourn” suggests that the knight is passing on, or dying, but is staying for a brief time beside the barren lake.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The noun “gloam” is another word for twilight, or the fading light between sunset and full darkness at the end of the day. Gloam symbolizes the knight’s impending death, which seems imminent after his horrifying dream.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The noun “thrall” refers to a state of servitude or being under someone’s power. A “thrall” can also be a servant slave or a state of being mentally or emotionally absorbed by someone or something. The pale men in the knight’s dream warn him that he has been enslaved by the merciless woman who seduced and then abandoned him. Though it is possible that the knight is only emotionally in thrall, the “death-pale” appearance of the other men suggest that the powerful effects of this woman are fatal.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Keats employs diacope, or the repetition of words separated by intervening words, by repeating the word “pale.” In this context, diacope calls the reader’s attention to the similarities between the paleness of the knight and the paleness of the men in his dream. He, like the kings, princes, and warriors before him, has been enslaved by a merciless woman.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The repetition of the root verb “to dream” in lines 34 and 35 is an example of polyptoton, which involves repeating different forms of the same root word. Polyptoton emphasizes the distressing nature of the knight’s dream. Further, the changing form of the repeated root verb suggests that the knight himself has been transformed by the harrowing experience.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Keats uses epizeuxis, or the repetition of words without intervening words between them, in this line. The repetition of the adjective “wild” emphasizes that the knight has become infatuated with someone who is more like a creature than a woman. In this case, epizeuxis foreshadows the knight’s abandonment while also implying that the knight cannot possess her.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The noun “grot,” or “grotto,” refers to a cave. Keats’s portrayal of the fairy woman living in an “Elfin grot” further associates her with folklore and nature. Both associations might explain why she does not ultimately seem to understand or care about the social constructs of chivalry and love like the knight does.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Keats alludes to manna from Exodus 16 in the Bible. Manna is an edible substance that sustains the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years. In this context, the fairy woman’s gifts of “roots of relish sweet,” “honey wild,” and “manna-dew” represent her close ties to the natural world—as well as her apparent affection for the knight.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Keats employs caesuras, or breaks in the middle of lines of verse, in the knight’s first descriptions of the enchanting woman he encountered. In this context, an em-dash (—) in line 14 and a comma in line 15 both force the reader to pause and take notice of important details about the woman—mainly, that she is not like an ordinary human, and possibly not human at all.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The final two lines of the third stanza use enjambment, a device in which a phrase that begins in one line continues into the next line. Keats’s use of enjambment intensifies the romantic image of the listless, forlorn knight wandering the countryside. Further, enjambment calls attention to the metaphor of the “fading rose” that represents the knight’s pale appearance. Given that roses are often associated with romance, it is possible that Keats highlights this metaphor to hint that heartbreak is the cause of the knight’s sadness.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. "Betide" is an archaic synonym of "happen" or "befall." Therefore, "woe betide" is an expression of sorrow and regret. One utters it in the wake of grief and suffering which seem to have happened as if determined by fate.

    — Susan Hurn
  12. In this context, the word "zone" is used in its archaic meaning: a girdle or a belt.

    — Susan Hurn
  13. The lady's "wild eyes" represent a romantic description subject to interpretation. Perhaps "wild" means otherworldly, passionate, or filled with grief and mourning.

    — Susan Hurn
  14. The child of a fairy ("faery")—a tiny creature of folklore with magic power. The suggestion is that the lady has a supernatural background.

    — Susan Hurn
  15. The speaker is describing the appearance of the knight's face. "A lily on thy brow" refers metaphorically to the complexion of his forehead, which looks white ("pale"). He appears feverish, his face damp. The color is also fading quickly from his cheeks. 

    — Susan Hurn
  16. The adjective "haggard" means that someone looks very thin and tired, especially from great hunger, pain, or worry.

    — Susan Hurn
  17. A "sedge" is a grass-like plant with small flowers that typically grows in wet ground, such as the banks of a lake.

    — Susan Hurn
  18. In medieval times, a "knight-at-arms" was a soldier whose king or lord had elevated him to a position of honor in society. Historically, this term refers to a knight who fought for his king or benefactor after first serving as a page and squire.

    — Susan Hurn