The sedge is withered from the lake, and no birds sing

SedgeFall is coming and it’s time to plant some new varieties of flowers and such. Yesterday, I brought home two pots of grasses; I’ve always loved the long, trailing grasses. This morning, I read the little tag on the one: Orange Sedge. Immediately, the words from Keat’s La Bell Dam Sans Merci came to me–“the sedge is withered from the lake and no birds sing.” I remembered reading it in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which I read as a child.

I think these grasses cause such emotion in me because they remind me of the time I spent in North Carolina where they grew along the beach and the huge sand dunes at Nags Head; so different from the California coast where I  now live.

I will go back to the garden center for more of this one and plant the sedge in pots where it can blow in the wind and I will remember how I sat outside our beach motel room on the picnic table there at Nags Head after washing my long, waist-length hair, letting it blow dry in the sunny, salty sea air. I was 17.

Here is the poem, which was part of a letter Keats wrote to his brother, George:

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1819

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

So haggard and so woe-begone?

The squirrel’s granary is full,

And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,

With anguish moist and fever-dew,

And on thy cheeks a fading rose

Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,

Full beautiful – a faery’s child,

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,

And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;

She looked at me as she did love,

And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,

And nothing else saw all day long,

For sidelong would she bend, and sing

A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,

And honey wild, and manna-dew,

And sure in language strange she said –

‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her elfin grot,

And there she wept and sighed full sore,

And there I shut her wild wild eyes     With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep

And there I dreamed – Ah! woe betide! –

The latest dream I ever dreamt     On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,

Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;

They cried – ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci     Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,

With horrid warning gaped wide,

And I awoke and found me here,

On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here

Alone and palely loitering,

Though the sedge is withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.


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