La Belle Dame sans Merci

In other media

Visual depictions

"La Belle Dame sans Merci" was a popular subject for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It was depicted by Frank Dicksee,[7] Frank Cadogan Cowper, John William Waterhouse,[8] Arthur Hughes,[9] Walter Crane,[10] and Henry Maynell Rheam.[11] It was also satirized in the 1 December 1920 edition of Punch magazine.[12]

Musical settings

Around 1910, Charles Villiers Stanford produced a musical setting for the poem. It is a dramatic interpretation requiring a skilled (male) vocalist and equally skilled accompanist.[13] In the 21st century it remains popular and is included on many anthologies of English song or British Art Music recorded by famous artists.[14]

In 1935, Patrick Hadley wrote a version of the Stanford score for tenor, four-part chorus, and orchestra.[15]

A setting of the poem, in German translation, appears on the 2009 music album Buch der Balladen by Faun.[16]

A lyrical, mystical musical setting of this poem has been composed by Loreena McKennitt, published in her 2018 CD Lost Souls.[17]


The 1915 American film The Poet of the Peaks was based upon the poem.[18]

The 2009 stop-action animated fantasy film Coraline directed by Henry Selick refers to the malevolent Other Mother as "beldam". The film includes a similar theme of entrapment by a seemingly beautiful loving woman.[19]


The poem is mentioned in the story entitled "The case of Three Gables" from the 1893 book The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In it Holmes compares and matches the character sketch of Isadora Klein with La Belle Dame sans Merci.[20]

In Agatha Christie's 1936 mystery novel Murder in Mesopotamia, the plot is centered upon an unusual woman named Louise Leidner who is described multiple times as "a kind of Belle Dame sin Merci". One character describes her as possessing a "calamitous magic that plays the devil with things".[21][22]

Vladimir Nabokov's books The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941), Lolita (1955) and Pale Fire (1962) allude to the poem.

The last two lines of the first verse ("The sedge has withered from the lake/And no birds sing") were used as an epigraph for Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring (1962), about the environmental damage caused by the irresponsible use of pesticides. The second line was repeated later in the book, as the title of a chapter about their specific effects on birds.[23]

The last two lines of the 11th verse are used as the title of a science fiction short story, "And I awoke and found me here on the cold hill's side" (1973) by James Tiptree, Jr..[24]

Roger Zelazny's Amber Chronicles refer to the poem in Chapter Five of The Courts of Chaos (1978) wherein the protagonist journeys to a land that resembles the poem.[25]

John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) alludes to the poem in initially describing the main character's home.[26]

Farley Mowat's 1980 memoir of his experiences in World War II is entitled And No Birds Sang.[27]

The line is also featured in Philip Roth's The Human Stain (2000) in reaction to Coleman describing his new, far younger love interest.[28]

In Chapter 32 of Kristine Smith's novel Law Of Survival (2001) the protagonist, Jani, reveals her true hybrid eyes to the general public for the first time, then she asks another character, Niall, what she looks like. Niall smiles and quotes a snippet of La Belle Dame sans Merci and gives Keats credit for his words.[29]

The Beldam in Neil Gaiman's 2002 horror-fantasy novel Coraline references the mysterious woman who is also known as Belle Dame. Both share many similarities as both lure their protagonists into their lair by showing their love towards them and giving them treats to enjoy. The protagonists in both stories also encounter the ghosts who have previously met both women and warn the protagonist about their true colours and at the end of the story, the protagonist is stuck in their lair, with the exception of Coraline who managed to escape while the unnamed knight in this poem is still stuck in the mysterious fairy's lair.[30]

L. A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series (2002-2014) features a take on La Belle Dame sans Merci, adapted to reflect the protagonists age. Mary "Jacky" Faber became known as "La belle jeune fille sans merci".

In Hunting Ground (2009) by Patricia Briggs, La Belle Dame sans Merci is identified as The Lady of the Lake and is a hidden antagonist.[31]

David Foster Wallace's 2011 novel The Pale King alludes to the poem in its title.[32]

Cassandra Clare's 2016 collection of novellas Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy includes a novella titled Pale Kings and Princes, named after the line "I saw pale kings and princes too/Pale warriors, death-pale were they all". Three of the poem's stanzas are also excerpted in the story.[33]


Rosemary & Thyme - Season 1, Episode 1[34]

Californication - Season 1, Episode 5[35]

Downton Abbey - Season 6, Episode 5[36]

Victoria - Season 2, Episode 3[37]


In a March 2017 interview with The Quietus the English songwriter and musician John Lydon cited the poem as a favourite.[38]

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