The North American Review
This is the last of the poems I have found about Keats and Teignmouth. It is by Amy Lowell, an American poet who also wrote a biography of Keats and was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer prize for poetry a year after her death in 1925, just over a hundred years after Keats’s own untimely death.
The poem appears to have been inspired by an extract from a letter written by Keats whilst in Teignmouth to his friend Reynolds – “Atkins, the coachman, Bartlett, the surgeon, Simmons, the barber, and the Girls over the Bonnet-shop, say we shall now have a month of seasonable weather—warm, witty, and full of invention.”
It is a LONG poem written in couplet style.
View Of Teignmouth In Devonshire, March, 1818
It’s a soppy, splashy, muddy country
And he is dead sick of stair and entry,
Of four walls cuddling round his chair,
And breathing full as much water as air.
London is so far away
It dreams, like Latmos. He has sat all day
Copying that cursed Fourth Book and he’s struck
A snag, and his drying sand won’t suck.
His mind’s like a seed gone to rot with rain
And—Damn it, there’s poor Tom coughing again!
Mr. John Keats crams his hat well on
Over his ears and walks up and down
The soggy streets of Teignmouth town.
Mr. John Keats walks along the streets
Of Teignmouth and asks every soul he meets
If the sun ever shines in Devonshire,
Whether the weather they live with here
Is sometimes what one might really call fair,
With the sun in the sky and a brisk to the air?
The hat of Mr. John Keats is wet,
But his eyes are sharp and ferret-set,
He is seeking the sun with a quicksilver-rod,
Noting the veer in a neighbour’s nod,
Gauging the drift of a neighbour’s words
As they might be a flock of South-come birds.
Atkins, the coachman, sets his mug
Down on the counter and gives a shrug.
“Lor’ love you, Sir, if I was to tell
The way I know, you might call it smell.
If it’s not for one thing then it’s another.
Of course you’re anxious because of your brother.
Tell him he’ll soon have all the basking
In sunlight he wants, and just for the asking.
But I must go, Mrs. Green’s brought to bed—
Oh, tell him to keep it off of his head.”
Smash! bang! Mr. Keats. Another chain
Is snapped, and there’s a gold tint to the rain.
Simmons the barber’s as shrunk as a pippin
Hung on a beam which you might nick a chip in,
But never could suck for its juice is all dried.
This afternoon he is standing inside
His doorway, just behind his pole,
With the mien of a migratory soul
Perching an instant before departing
Otherwhere, he seems always just starting
To leave, a whirling weather-cock
On the edge of flight, but tied to a block.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Keats,” says he,
“Brushing up a bit of good weather, I see.
That’s the way, young men can tell
A season’s turn uncommonly well.
I’ve had a full day, the whole town at once.
But when I learnt my trade every dunce
Who could snap a scissors did not dare hoist a pole.
I remember one day when they called out the roll
In the old sixty-third, every man of the lot
Was new shaved and powdered and wound, and my pot
And razors all cleaned and I with the rest of them
As spick and as span I could match with the best of them.
To cut a round head requires some skill,
But nothing to binding a cue, there’s a thrill
In a nicely tied cue, I can’t see how the girls
Can put up a man who wears his own curls.
But fashion is fashion, the hussy, and I’ve
Been her very devoted since I’ve been alive.
And, thank God, she has not yet set her approval
On beards except in the way of removal.
I wish you could feel the delight I receive
When my razor slides over your skin, I’d as leave
Shave a man in his twenties as go to a play,
There’s romance in it, Sir, when you see the soap spray
Into bubbles and lather, and your blade cuts a line
And lets through the smooth face like a moon, it’s so fine
That I dream it sometimes. I’ve a soul for such fancies,
Old barbers like shaving as young girls like dances.
And one makes the other. Who would dance a quadrille
With a rough, stubble chin? That fellow who will
Is a hater of women, a thief in the egg,
He’s just ripe for a ball attached to his leg.
Why look, Sir, and tell me if fully two-thirds
Of the unshaven men do not end as jail-birds.
Our prisons are full of them, I dare to swear
No convict’s without a two-day’s growth of hair.
I don’t hold with this personal shaving, it’s sordid.
A man should spend well on himself, I wish more did.
But no man can cut his own hair, that’s a fact,
And a hair-cut requires a vast deal of tact.
A doctor wants his to look sober and grave,
Tradesmen are addicted to a float and a wave,
And again, one must know the sort of commodity
Your client purveys or there’s danger of oddity.
A butcher cut like a silk-mercer won’t do.
And a military man must carry a clue
To his martial exploits in the style of his head,
While a poet-—you’re a poet, Sir, I think I’ve heard said—
Oh, no, Sir, indeed, not a bit more confined,
A poet’s hair should seem the least trifle inclined
To a graceful disorder, it should look well when tossed;
If you cut it too short this effect is quite lost.
Oh, I beg, Mr. Keats, not another least snip.
Oh, dear, I do really regret that last clip.
I am glad you are pleased, but I don’t think a poet
Should order his hair so that no one can know it.
Still, you look very well, though I should have preferred
More dash and confusion for you. I have heard
That Lord Byron measures his hair with a rule
Before it is cut, and the least thimbleful
Too much taken off sets him all in a taking.
I’ve been told of men who couldn’t cut him for shaking.
The weather will change in less than a week,
I have felt it. these last few days on my cheek,
My skin always answers to the slightest degree
Of more or less moisture. You’ll hardly agree
That it’s dryer and warmer, but my touch is so fine
I can tell a South wind when it’s over the line.
Of course they’ll say different, these poor rustic churls,
But you be all ready for sparking the girls
By Tuesday. I’ll tip you the wink. We old men
Remember our own young days, now and again.”
Mr. John Keats has a jaunty swing
In his gait, as he leaves the chattering
Old barber, bowing beside his door.
Of course he feels the sort of core
Of golden sun the mist falls through.
What is a day, what is two?
The sun is coming up from the line
Like a fifty-four with its sails ashine.
He feels the flower-scented South
Like a taste of apricot in his mouth.
He thinks of primroses under the hedge
Where the pathway runs by the sheer cliff edge;
Of the downs above where sheep have trod
Crooked grey patterns across the sod,
And the shadows of turf-walls, cool and still,
Mark who owns where all down the hill;
Of a long slow ocean, so dazzling bright
Its blue is smothered in spangled white.
He thinks of queer sea-paths cross-running,
Smooth on ripple, of the quiet sunning
Of rocks and meadows, of violets
Creeping through grass, of drying nets,
Of poetry read with the sun on his book
And the freckling of leaves for an overlook.
Somebody laughs, somebody calls,
“Good-day, Mr. Keats.” It drops from the walls,
A perfume of laughter which flutters and falls.
Lime-tree blossoms by turret stairs,
Laughter of flowers no more than theirs,
Sunny golden acacia blooms
Peeping into maidens’ rooms,
Snap a spray and throw it over
The window-ledge to a waiting lover.
Mr. Keats comes to a stop
For the girls are over the Bonnet-shop
Leaning out like waving roses
Over a gate, most lovely of poses.
“Stay where you are, Girls,” says Mr. Keats,
“You pose as the dryads of Teignmouth streets.
If Haydon were here he would jot you down
In a jiffy, with your hair wet and blown
And your little laughing faces like pansies.”
“La! Mr. Keats, you do have such fancies.”
“Fancies or no, I believe it clears.
Don’t you feel the sun on your cheeks, my Dears?
Or smell it perhaps? What do you think?
There’s a hocus-pocus to-day in my ink
Which would not let me write a line,
And I itch for the sight of a columbine.
Tell me, have you noticed anything
Which points to a near-by Summering?”
“Oh yes,” said little Number One,
“All day I have felt the sun,
I saw it on a wheat-straw bonnet
I was making, the sun lay upon it,
And I thought the muslin blue-bells were sweet.”
“That,” said Mr. Keats, “is proof complete.”
Said Number Two, “I pricked my thumb
Three times running, and fair days come
After three pricks, it is always so.
Grandmother taught me long ago.”
“I dreamt last night,” said Number Three,
“Of a great thick-leaved fuchsia-tree
Full of blossoms, purple and red,
And the blossoms played music over my head
Like bells of glass and copper bells
And wind in the trees when the ocean swells
Flood tide over the beach, and shells
Glisten like rubies with the water sheen
And the sky at the back of the town is green.”
“You prophesy in a parable,”
Said Mr. Keats. “Oh, April-fool!”
Cried the girls who were over the Bonnet-shop.
And the laughter was sweet as a lollipop
To an urchin’s palate, in his ears.
With a gesture, he brushed aside their jeers.
“But will it clear?” “Of course it will,”
Said the three, “if you patiently wait until
It does.” And they laughed in a rainbow chord,
High, and low, and middleward.
And Mr. Keats laughed too, though he knew
That they had not said one word in two
Of what he’d imagined they might have said.
But who cares a button who bakes the bread
So the bread is baked? And a Bonnet-shop
May be what you please, even Latmos top.
So Mr. Keats went blithely on,
Quite as if the round sun shone,
Back to his copying his Fourth Book.
And the girls watched him until a crook
In the street, when he turned it, hid him from sight.
Then they noticed that it was growing night.
So they put their bonnets away, and the three
Lit the lamp and sat down to tea,
Immortal for always, because John Keats
Had taken a walk through Teignmouth streets,
And stopped when one of them said “Good-day.”
Clio is odd in her ways, they say.
The coachman, the surgeon, the barber, the girls—
Islands raised out of darkening swirls.
Who else was in Teignmouth that afternoon?
Vainly may we importune
The shadows, only these have come down
A century from Teignmouth town.
These only from the dark are won
Because John Keats had a hunger for sun.
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