Epistle to Reynolds

John Hamilton Reynolds

John Hamilton Reynolds

During Keats’ stay in Teignmouth he appears to have been on an emotional journey which is reflected in the cycle of five poems he wrote whilst here.  His final piece of ‘Teignmouth Verse’ was included in a letter he wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds on 25th March 1818.  He seemed in a blacker mood, dwelling on the prospect of his brother’s death and brooding intensely on the brutality of earthly life.  The poem is quite lengthy and written in rhyming couplets; the extract here is the section which particularly seems to contain references to Teignmouth:

Keats most probably refers to Teignmouth sea front with its distinctive plane of “flat brown sand” and customarily docile wave line “untumultuous fringe of silver foam”.

Is the ‘lampit rock’ a reference to the china clay produced higher up the Teign estuary?  Lampit is of Anglo Saxon origin, and is a topographical name for someone who lived near a clay pit or loam pit.  The derivation is from the Middle English “lampit”, from the Olde English pre 7th century “lam”, loam, clay, with “pytt”, pit, hollow.

The periwinkle and wild strawberry would have been in flower whilst Keats was in Teignmouth.

His references to destruction, savage prey, horrid moods reflect all those unremitting forces of life and death that he now perceived predating on his brother, Tom, and perhaps on himself.  He had this view of the unrelenting carnivorous train that defined existence and non-existence–and all of it viewed tremulously from the placid vantage point of Teignmouth beach.

Commentary extracted partially from:  Ideas Of Landscape In John Keats’ Teignmouth (Source: the free library.com)

Want to know more?  See the transcript of Keats letter to Reynolds at the Gutenberg Project


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