Morgana Le Fay as La Belle Dame Sans Merci

For today’s post I would like to analyze the poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats.   This particular analysis will focus on my belief that the Belle Dame of the poem is none other than Morgan Le Fay!

Within the poem we meet a knight who is lying near death and tells a tale of meeting a beautiful faery woman!   I am going to take this poem line by line to see where Morgana fits into this beautiful ballad.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, 

~The knight is ill, and ailing, and Morgana is known to be an enchantress who works against knights!

       Alone and palely loitering? 

~He is alone as he had been abandoned after she tired of playing with him. 

The sedge has withered from the lake, 

~The connection to the lake is an obvious connection to Arthurian lake maidens, and possibly Avalon!   Avalon is the land of Morgana Le Fay!

       And no birds sing. 

~Birds are associated with Morgana and with faery magic, lack of bird song could be associated with being away from Faery!

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, 

~He is ailing, and must tell his story of the faery.

       So haggard and so woe-begone? 

~Becoming haggard is something that happened often to men who was enthralled by faery women.

The squirrel’s granary is full, 

~This shows it is likely winter, and he had been gone a long time.

       And the harvest’s done.

~The harvest having ended confirms it to be winter.

I see a lily on thy brow, 

~A lily on the brow is likely a reference to being ill, and possibly dying.

       With anguish moist and fever-dew, 

~Anguish and feverishness are important to explain just how poorly the knight is doing.

And on thy cheeks a fading rose 

~He is quickly fading into death, and likely will not make it much longer.

       Fast withereth too. 

~Very fast he will be at an end of his pain.

I met a lady in the meads, 

~Thus begins his tale of the faery woman.

       Full beautiful—a faery’s child, 

~This is the description of the faery woman, and she is described in a similar way to how Morgana is in many versions.

Her hair was long, her foot was light, 

~Long hair and a light step is conductive to how faery women, and Morgana also are often described.

       And her eyes were wild. 

~Wild eyed is a perfect way to describe Morgana Le Fay as she worked her magic on unsuspecting men!

I made a garland for her head, 

~Gifted her with garland shows she was likely a Queen in need of a crown.    Morgana is the Queen of Avalon!

       And bracelets too, and fragrant zone; 

~Magic with flowers connects to herb craft and herblore, which Morgana was very skilled with!

She looked at me as she did love, 

~Seducing and making men fall in love with her was a specialty of Morgana Le Fay’s.

       And made sweet moan 

~This is a sexual description, and Morgana is always seen as sexual.

I set her on my pacing steed, 

~She is now on a horse, which is connected to sovereignty, and Morgana is very connected to sovereignty.

       And nothing else saw all day long, 

~This is him being totally in love with her beauty.

For sidelong would she bend, and sing 

~Singing is something that Morgana Le Fay is often said to have been very gifted at.

       A faery’s song. 

~This faery song simply further confirms her faery nature!   It can also be seen as chanting a spell!

She found me roots of relish sweet, 

~This is more reference to understanding of herbs.

       And honey wild, and manna-dew, 

~Using herbs for magic is something that Morgana has done from her earliest versions.

And sure in language strange she said— 

~Knowledge of foreign languages shows a knowledge of magic and witchcraft!   Morgana is a Queen of Witches.

       ‘I love thee true’. 

~This is the point where the knight is totally in her thrall!

She took me to her Elfin grot, 

~This is her magical home, likely on Avalon.   A grot makes one think of a watery abode, and Morgana is related to water!

       And there she wept and sighed full sore, 

~She is using his own sympathy to get what she wants from him here.

And there I shut her wild wild eyes 

~Wild eyes, once again, a very Morgana description.

       With kisses four. 

~Kissing is used to seal in her seduction.

And there she lullèd me asleep, 

~This magical sleep is a wondrous sleep for the knight.

       And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!— 

~These dreams are very much forming nightmares.

The latest dream I ever dreamt 

~Making the knight have bad dreams is a way to ensure he stays in her thrall.

       On the cold hill side. 

~The cold hill is where the knight awoke as the poem began.

I saw pale kings and princes too, 

~This is a classic dream of Arthurian lands.

       Pale warriors, death-pale were they all; 

~Pale as death shows that he was in the Underworld of the dead.

They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci 

~This is where the leading lady of the poem is finally named, the beautiful woman without mercy!

       Thee hath in thrall!’ 

~Having him in thrall is something common for Morgana to deign to do to knights!

I saw their starved lips in the gloam, 

~Starving lips in the gloam is something that shows he has lost all desire for actual food and drink.

       With horrid warning gapèd wide, 

~This warning is not something good, but instead a show of evil power and intent.

And I awoke and found me here, 

~He is coming to the realization of all that has come to pass.

       On the cold hill’s side. 

~Once again he is alone in the cold of winter.

And this is why I sojourn here, 

~He has come there trying to find the faery once more.

       Alone and palely loitering, 

~He awaits her return as the men captured by Morgana wait for her presence in la vale sans retour!

Though the sedge is withered from the lake, 

~He felt that she lived near the lake, and so he is here.

       And no birds sing.

~This is the end of the poem, no birds are singing, and the birds of Rhiannon cannot wake him from his death!

I hope you have enjoyed my analysis of Morgana Le Fay and the amazing Keats poem.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a Morgana painting.   I found the image on