Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Poet and the Boatman

The Ferryman

The Ferryman

Another take on Keats.  How did he cross the river?  How did he reach Arch Brook, Larch Brook, the Combe in Teignhead?  There was no bridge to ease the passage in Keats’ time so you could ford the river at low tide or ….. take the ferry.  How lives cross!  In this poem Deborah Harvey aligns those lives, the poet and that boatman though they’ll never share a jar.  Thanks to Deborah for letting me share this poem.

The Poet And The Boatman
(Deborah Harvey)

Tidal here and salt
the final turn of Teign
before its fretful merging with the sea
creates a harbour in the lee of land,
this curved blood-coloured beach.

Through mist that lifts like linen wraiths
I glimpse the poet stripping off
his white ballooning shirt and britches,
bathing in a manner
far from gentlemanly

the water’s cold, he’ll catch a chill

while over here a boatman’s sanding smooth
a newly mended hull.
He’ll check the caulk is watertight
before he ventures out to rescue souls
condemned to airless death.

Both men are bright-faced,
close in age,
yet they’ll never share a jar
for by the time the boatman’s posted here,
John Keats is twelve years dead.

no one could have saved the poet
from drowning in his blood

Instead the boatman heads for breakfast,
and John is gone with a flap of his red-stained shirt
to flirt with the sleep-soft girls
stirring in their beds
above the bonnet shop.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Deborah Harvey …..


Night Ride to Teignmouth with Keats

Graham Burchell reciting his poem outside the New Quay Inn

Graham Burchell reciting his poem outside the New Quay Inn

I’ve changed the order of the poems about Keats because we did a poetry walk around Teignmouth on Wednesday this week and this was one of the poems recited.

The author, Graham Burchell, read it to us outside the New Quay Inn where the verses from one of Keats’ pieces of ‘doggerel’ is writ on the outside wall.


(Graham Burchell, 2012)

On top of the coach, wedged between the fabrics
of others and packages in wicker, leather and wood,
there is room only for breath, rain and the wind
that draws discomfort like a purse string.

I touch his arm, smell the damp in his greatcoat
through my fingertips. He’ll never know. I am ghost.
I’ve clawed back time to see his skin in the night –
smooth and cold – stones in a streambed.

I hear the harsh compression of his lungs,
sense melancholy behind eyes that flicker.
His and all the other heads are bowed.
Those seats could be pews in a roofless church.

Inside, in the dry, a corpulent man smokes, reeks
of powder and porter. He rubs against a woman
clutching a bible that she’ll not open,
even when the white sky of morning comes.

Opposite, a Wesleyan priest with a fixed scowl,
journeys with a younger man whose nose needs dabbing,
who may be a relative. They do not converse
but sometimes growl, like coach wheels riding stones.

All complain when those same wheels drop into ruts.
A wife across from the poet, sleepy in the rain,
tightens the grip on her child. Her husband
digs deeper into the scruff of a fresh dead hare.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Poetry Walk …..

Keats at Teignmouth

Amy Clampitt

Amy Clampitt

From the Oggie we turn to a darker and broodier image of Keats.

This was written by the acclaimed American poet, Amy Clampitt. She became one of the most highly regarded poets in America, on the publication of her first collection, The Kingfisher, at the age of sixty-three (so there’s hope for me yet ….. just need to nurture the right mix of Keats, Hopkins, Pound and Yeats!).

Keats was one of the poets she most revered and prompted a series of poems about him and a book “A Homage to John Keats” published in 1984. To quote Amy Clampitt herself: “what attracted me immediately to the poems of Keats, and later of Hopkins, is the way they draw on and evoke physical sensation in all its luscious variety”.

Keats at Teignmouth
(Amy Clampitt)

Even in mild Devon, that spring, the lung-
destroying English climate was one long
dank rampage: high winds, trees falling
onto the roads, stagecoaches overturning,

day upon day of drumming, streaming rain
swollen to weeks, the sun a half-believed-in
pagan god above the azure of the Mediterranean.
At night he’d lie in bed (he wrote) and listen

to it with a sense of being drowned and rotted
like a grain of wheat. He very nearly hated
Tom because he coughed so; then his raw mood
froze as he saw his brother cough up blood.

His writing plodded. By now Endymion bored him.
His letters joked of waterspouts and rattraps. Rhyme,
that light-fingered habit, ran down and went grim:
beyond an untumultuous fringe of foam,

he’d seen, once the weather eased, into a maw
of rot, a predatory core of dying Melodrama
mildewed the sources of romance; the basil grew
rank from her dead lover’s skull for Isabella.

What might still flower out of that initiation
to the sodden underside of things – those Eleusinian
passageways that seem (he wrote) only to darken
as the doors of new and vaster chambers open –

he could no more than guess at. On may day
he looked from the window of a single stanza
leaning toward Theocritus and the blue Bay
of Baiae (read Naples). Not yet twenty-three,

he’d presently begin to resurrect, to all but
deify the issue of his own wretched climate –
primroses, cress and water-mint, great wet-
globed peonies, the grape against the palate:

an annus mirabilis of odes before the season
of the oozing of the ciderpress, the harvest done,
wheatfields blood-spattered once with poppies gone
to stubble now, the swallows fretting to begin
their windborne flight toward a Mediterranean
that turned to marble as the mists closed in
on the imagination’s yet untrodden region –
the coal-damps, the foul winter dark of London.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Amy Clampitt …..
John Keats …..