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This famous poem tells a story as old as mankind itself: the tale of unrequited love. An anonymous speaker greets a "Knight-at-arms" at the beginning of the poem, asking why he is alone and wandering around when winter is setting in and nature is described as being very bleak. The speaker recognises that the Knight does not look well at all, and that he is subject to some kind of fever and emotional anguish:
"I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too."
It is after this stanza that the Knight himself begins his account of what happened and why he is like he is. He tells us that he met a beautiful lady in the woods, who seemed to be almost unearthly in the way she is described and how she acts. The Knight, instantly smitten, weaves flowers into garlands for her, placing her on his horse and commenting how her presence caused him to see "nothing else" all day. The woman found the Knight things to eat and assured him of her love for him. She then took him to her "elfin grot," lulling him to sleep. During his sleep he experiences a terrible dream where pale kings and princes warn him of the way in which "La belle Dame san Merci / Hath thee in thrall!" After this dream, and the warning that he is given, the Knight wakes up alone on the cold hill side. Clearly still obsessed with the woman, this is why he wanders alone at such a bleak and inhospitable time of year.
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