La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Whene'er I take my PHYLLIS out

   For moonlight walks, I like to stroll;

It gives me – I am rather stout –

   More chance of laying bare my soul.

My tender pleading, I reflect,

   Is robbed of all the charm that's in it

If my remarks are rudely checked

   By gasps and puffing every minute.

Yet nothing less is now my fate;

   Each night we wonder to and fro:

Our normal pace has been of late

   A good six miles an hour or so.

Sadly the moments flit away:

   No rays of joy my burdens lighten;

My PHYLLIS, I regret to say,

   Is training for a walk to Brighton.

When I let fall a gentle hint

   That I'm no devotee of pace,

She answers, "Now, suppose we sprint?

   I must get fit before the race.

Unless I exercise my limbs

   I feel my chances wane, diminish;

And I should die if that MISS SIMS

   Arrived before me at the finish."

So off we go. No more her ears

   May I enchant with honeyed phrase;

No more I win her smiles and tears,

   As once I could – in happier days.

We don't fall out; we've have no tiff;

   My passion glowswithout cessation;

But still, I'd love her better if

   She'd choose some calmer recreation.

First published in Punch, August 19, 1903.


In the 150 years after its probable date of composition, Richard Roos' mid-fifteenth-century Belle Dame sans Mercy enjoyed a robust popularity. The poem, a translation of Alain Chartier's poem of the same name, appeared in a spate of manuscripts and early prints, and was frequently attributed to Chaucer until Thomas Tyrwhitt's 1775-78 edition of The Canterbury Tales excluded it from the Chaucer canon. In 1819, John Keats used the title (though not the plot) for a ballad, which in turn inspired a number of painters.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Henry Maynell Rheam