O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, So and so woe-? 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 , 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 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 , And sure in language strange she said— ‘I love thee true’. She took me to her , 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—‘ in thrall!’ I saw their starved lips in the , With horrid warning gaped wide, And I awoke and found me here, On the cold hill’s side. And this is why I here, Alone and palely loitering, Though the sedge is withered from the lake, And no birds sing.
Here you can find an analysis of this handsome ballad which is considered an English classic. It is a narrative of an encounter that causes both pleasure and pain. It avoids simplicity of interpretation despite simplicity of structure. Composed of twelve stanzas, of only four lines each, with a simple ABCB rhyme scheme, the poem is full of enigmas, and has been the subject of numerous interpretations.