Category Archives: Keats

Exciting News

Cover imageIt has been a little while since the last post mainly because I have been busy putting together a selection of these poems into a book “Pebbles on the Shore”, which is currently at the printers.

Poetry and Song have long been a traditional way of recording stories of people and events, as an alternative way of remembering.  So, with that in mind, each piece of verse in the book has a brief story attached to tie it in to its place in the shaping of Teignmouth and the surrounding area.  I have also worked with a local artist, Maureen Fayle, who has illustrated the various pieces.  Her superb pen and ink sketches lend so much more depth to the stories that unfold.

Fresh to Bleed 13-cropThe selection goes back almost 400 years but there are a few contemporary pieces as well so thanks to the ‘modern-day’ contributors for allowing me to include their work:  Ian Chamberlain (one of the co-founders of Poetry Teignmouth), Kim Edwards, Bob Freshwater (and the Back Beach Boyz), Deborah Harvey, Barbara Hine, Don Pearson and Tacy Rickard.

Teignmouth 27 - cropped1This project started just over two years ago with a thought and a question. Walking up the cliff path through the beautiful Mules Park in East Teignmouth I saw a poem, The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy, posted on the noticeboard. Who put it there I don’t know, but it struck a chord. My thoughts drifted to Keats. Teignmouth is proud of its association with John Keats even though he stayed here only three months whilst looking after his brother Tom who had come earlier in hope that the sea air would alleviate, if not cure, his consumption. Then came the random question – were there any other poems or poets associated with Teignmouth? And so this project was born.

The journey to this book has been like a walk along the beach, occasionally finding interesting pebbles whose shape, texture and colour define the shoreline like poems marking time in the history of Teignmouth.



View Of Teignmouth In Devonshire, March 1818

The North American Review

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
(Amy Lowell)

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.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Amy Lowell
The North American Review

Premonitory (Teignmouth 1818)

Clark's promontory - the Parson and Clerk

Clark’s promontory – the Parson and Clerk

This second poem by Tom Clark also comes from his collection ‘Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes From the Life of John Keats’. The accompanying picture also appears in the book and gives an indication of the inspiration behind the poem.

“Junkets” apparently is the cockney nickname one of Keats’s friends devised for him.

Premonitory (Teignmouth 1818)
(Tom Clark)

Mariners don’t think about the deeps too much.
The canvas of my reverie: maritime,
With promontory, cave, and little antique
Town that’s emptied for a sacrifice.
A boat tacks around the cove and disappears
Into my mind’s eye, where the scene plays over

And over: a small town beside an immense sea,
A white sail tacks around the promontory.
Mariners don’t think too much about the deeps,
Poets were once thought premonitory.
The canvas of my reverie is
Maritime, with a promontory, a town:

The town has emptied for a sacrifice.
I close my eyes, but the same scene plays over:
Above the victim’s head the priest suspends
A blade, light plays cleanly upon bronze,
A sun beats down, the confused heifer lows,
The pipe shrills, the bright libation flows,

Those of the faithful with weak nerves look away,
The blue paint splashed beneath a glowing sky
Bleeds across the harbor to the bobbing skiff
Whose white sail shows above the green head cliff,
Moves around the point, and seems to freeze in time
The unison hymn of sailors who forget

All that they know but their songs’ chiming,
Chanting as we did when poetry was young,
Trying not to think too much about the deeps,
Our fear of death, and this abandoned town
Which itself has lost all memory of
The qualities of Life vacated when we die.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Tom Clark …..
Junkets on a Sad Planet …..

Off Season

Deborah Harvey’s previous poem reminds us that Keats had contracted TB from which he died only a few year after his brother Tom who had come to Teignmouth in the hope that the air would cure his own TB.

Junkets on a Sad Planet

Junkets on a Sad Planet

Today’s post is the first of two from Tom Clark’s work ‘Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats’ which cover Keats’ stay in Teignmouth. This poem, ‘Off Season’, reflects on his brother Tom’s condition and Keats’ dark mood.

Off Season
(Tom Clark)

O Devonshire, you dwindle my moon in
Heaven, and drown me in my rainy lunes
My intellect degenerates apace
Tom looks pale and has a cough that causes
Blood to engorge his vocal chords
Stifling his voice like the kiss of a Medusa
His face turns blue, his eyes roll back in his head
Then in a moment he is himself again
But I am not, my blue devils coming on
To tease sleep out of my anxious mind,
Make eyelids ache into my fretted pillow,
By day I prowl the flat brown sand alone
Picking dully among the slick green rocks
At the foam troubled fringe of silver
Breakers that pound in from the dark sea with
Shocks that are a metronome of my mood,
If under that wide water now I would
Scarcely kick to come up to the top

Want to know more?  Check out:

Tom Clark …..
Junkets on a Sad Planet …..

Sonnet to Keats

Thomas & Hessey published Endymion

Thomas & Hessey published Endymion

Today’s post goes back almost 200 years to a sonnet that was sent to Keats in an anonymous letter that also enclosed a £25 note.  The letter was sent from Teignmouth by a “Mr P Fenbank” to the booksellers Taylor & Hessey of Fleet street, London, who had published Endymion.

It is believed that the letter and sonnet were written by Marianne Prowse, one of Keats’ friends in Teignmouth, under the pseudonym of “P Fenbank”.

Sonnet to Keats
(Attrib. Marianne Prowse?)

Star of high promise! Not to this dark age
Do thy mild light and loveliness belong:
For it is blind, intolerant, and wrong,
Dead to empyreal soarings, and the rage
Of scoffing spirits bitter war doth wage
With all that, bold integrity of song :
Yet thy clear beam shall shine through ages strong,
To ripest times a light and heritage
And those breathe now who dote upon thy fame,
Whom thy wild numbers wrap beyond their being,
Who love the freedom of thy lays, their aim
Above the scope of a dull tribe unseeing,
And there is one whose hand will never scant,
From his poor store of fruits, all thou canst want.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Marianne Prowse …..
Brittlebooks (p298-9) …..

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 …..


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 …..