La Belle Dame sans Mercy

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For the 19th-century ballad by John Keats, see La Belle Dame sans Merci.

Assumed to have been written in 1424, La Belle Dame sans Mercy is a French poem on courtly love written by Alain Chartier.[1]


The poem is written in a series of octaves (huitains in the French) each line of which contains eight syllables (octosyllabes), which is also the style of the poet François Villon in the "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" written later in the 15th century. In the debate between the Lover and the Lady, the alternating octaves delineate their arguments.

The rhyme scheme is ABABBCBC of crossed rhymes (rimes croisées).


The body of La Belle Dame sans Merci is composed of 100 stanzas of alternating dialogue between a male lover and the lady he loves (referred to in the French as l'Amant et la Dame). Their dialogue is framed by the observations of the narrator-poet who, as we learn in a separate introduction to the poem (Complainte de la mort a la dame Maistre Alain) and in the introductory verses of the main text, is grieving for his recently deceased lady.

The first 24 stanzas describe the mourning poet, the self-described most unhappy lover ("le plus dolent des amoureux"), as he embarks alone on horseback, driven to wander by Sadness (Tristesse) and divested of his capacity to feel by Death (Mort).[2] After reaching the edge of town, the narrator-poet finds himself obliged to attend a party with two of his friends. It is at this party that the poet observes the unhappy lover, with whom he can empathize, and his lady.[3] At the end of the twenty-fourth stanza, the narrator-poet takes on the role of silent interlocutor. The text then becomes a transcript of the conversation between the melancholy lover and the lady who refuses to enter into a reciprocal amorous relationship with him. In the last four stanzas the poet-narrator takes over the narrative to give the moral of the poem.


  • Alain Chartier, Baudet Herenc and Achille Caulier, Le Cycle de la Belle Dame sans Mercy : une anthologie poétique du XVe siècle (BNF MS FR. 1131), Edition bilingue établie, traduite, présentée et annotée par David F. Hult et Joan E. McRae. Paris : Champion, 2003.


  1. ^ Hult, David (2003). Le Cycle de la Belle Dame sans Merci. Paris: Champion Classiques. pp. xiv. 
  2. ^ Chartier, Alain (2003). Le Cycle de la Belle Dame sans Mercy. Paris: Champion Classiques. p. 16. 
  3. ^ Kibler, William (April 1979). "The Narrator as Key to Alain Chartier's La Belle Dame sans mercy". The French Review. 52 (5): 719.