by John Keats (1795 - 1821), as Caviare
Translation © by Bertram Kottmann

O what can ail thee, knight‑at‑arms
Language: English 
Available translation(s): GER ITA
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
   [Alone]1 and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither'd 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]2 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]3, 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]4 she lull'd me asleep,
   [And there]4 I dream'd -- [Ah!]5 woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream'd
   On the cold [hill's side]6.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
   Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
[They]7 cried -- "La Belle Dame sans Merci
   Hath thee in thrall!"

[I saw their starved lips in the gloom,
   With horrid warning gaping wide,]8
And I awoke and found me here,
   On the cold [hill's side]6.

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

W. Mayer sets stanzas 1, 4, 3, 5, 7, 9-12 in (at least) one setting - see below for more information

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Note: in the published form of this poem, each stanza has a Roman numeral. We have removed them.

First published in Indicator, May 1820

1 Stanford: "So lone"
2 Hindemith: "cheek"
3 Hindemith: "sideways would she lean"
4 W. Mayer: "There"
5 omitted by W. Mayer
6 W. Mayer: "hillside"
7 Hindemith, W. Mayer: "Who"
8 omitted by W. Mayer; Hindemith:
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
   With horrid warning gapèd wide,


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)

Settings in other languages, adaptations, or excerpts:

  • Also set in French (Français), a translation by Jean Neymarck (1889 - 1913) ; composed by Jean Neymarck.

Other available translations, adaptations or excerpts, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • CZE Czech (Čeština) (Jaroslav Vrchlický) , "La belle dame sans merci"
  • GER German (Deutsch) (Bertram Kottmann) , "La belle dame sans merci", copyright © 2008, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • HUN Hungarian (Magyar) (Mihály Babits) , "La belle dame sans merci"
  • ITA Italian (Italiano) (Ferdinando Albeggiani) , "La belle dame sans merci", copyright © 2010, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Research team for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator] , Ted Perry , Garrett Medlock [Guest Editor]

This text was added to the website between May 1995 and September 2003.
Line count: 48
Word count: 284

La belle dame sans merci
Language: German (Deutsch)  after the English 
Was mag dich plagen, Rittersmann?
Schweifst so allein und fahl umher.
Das Ried verdorrt am See, es singt 
kein Vöglein mehr.

Was mag dich plagen, Rittersmann,
wehklagend, abgehärmt zugleich?
Des Eichhorns Kammer ist gefüllt,
der Herbst war reich.

Trägst eine Lilie  auf der Stirn,
von Schmerzen feucht und Fieberhauch;
die Rose, deiner Wangen Zier,
rasch welkt sie auch.

Ich traf ein Fräulein in der Au,
berückend schön, ein Feenbild;
ihr Haar war lang, ihr Gang war leicht,
ihr Blick war wild.

Ich flocht ein Kränzlein um ihr Haupt,
um Arm und Leib duftigen Kreis;
sie sah mich an, tat ganz verliebt
und seufzte leis.

Ich hob sie auf mein schreitend Ross,
ihr Anblick war's, der mich bezwang;
mir zugeneigt ein Elfenlied
zaubrisch sie sang.

Wohl wilden Honig, Wurzeln süß 
und Mannatau fand sie für mich,
in fremdem Ton sprach sie gewiss:
'Treu lieb ich dich.'

Sie nahm mich in ihr Elfenhaus,
dort weinte sie, wehklagte mir;
und dort verschloss ich ihren Blick
mit Küssen vier.

Daselbst sang sie mich in den Schlaf,
dann träumte ich, weh mir, oh weh,
den letzten Traum, den je ich träumt
auf kalter Höh:

Könige fahl, Prinzen zugleich,
Krieger todbleich starrten mich an;
sie schrie'n, 'La belle dame sans merci
hält dich in Bann!'

Ich sah die schmalen Münder weit
im Dämmer warnend offen steh'n -
erwachte dann und fand mich hier
auf kalten Höhn.

So schweife ich an diesem Ort
allein und fahl, ziellos umher;
singt auch im dorren Ried am See 
kein Vöglein mehr.


  • Translation from English to German (Deutsch) copyright © 2008 by Bertram Kottmann, (re)printed on this website with kind permission. To reprint and distribute this author's work for concert programs, CD booklets, etc., you must ask the copyright-holder(s) directly for permission. If you receive no response, you must consider it a refusal.

    Bertram Kottmann.  Contact: BKottmann (AT)

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This text was added to the website: 2008-05-19
Line count: 48
Word count: 251