Why is the opening line of the poem repeated in the second stanza in "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first two stanzas serve to set the scene for the story that is narrated to us thereafter of the beautiful, mysterious and malign lady, and if we read the first two stanzas, what we can see they do is to create a strong sense of setting for us before this story is told. Note what function they perform:

"Ah, what can ail thee, Knight-at-arms,

Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.


"Ah, what can ail thee, Knight-at-arms,

So haggard and woe-begone?

The squirrel's granary is full,

And the harvest's done."

Note the speech marks that indicate somebody has come across the knight that looks so sick and is asking him why on earth he is remaining in such wilderness when autumn is setting in and nature has transformed where he is into a bleak, barren landscape--which perfectly reflects his own character after his experience of the beautiful women that has so enchanted him. The repetition of the first line in the second stanza thus reinforces that something is seriously wrong with the knight, and serves to arouse our interest and anticipation in finding out what precisely has happened to him.