This scrap of verse occurs in a letter to James Rice, written from Teignmouth on the 24th of March, 1818, and published by Lord Houghton in the first volume of the Life, Letters &c. (1848). James Rice was a lawyer whom Keats met through his friend John Hamilton Reynolds. Rice and Reynolds were members, with Benjamin Bailey of a literary society (Zetosophians – ‘I seek wisdom’). Rice was continually in ill health, but Keats appreciated his cheerful spirits and good sense. He described him as ‘the most sensible and even wise Man I know’ (letter of 17-27 Sept 1819). Rice helped pay the expenses of Keats’ trip to Italy.
Reading the poem suggests that Dawlish Fair might have been a welcome escape from the realities of the world for Keats. It was a place where he could go and have fun. Like the earlier poem about the Dawlish Maid it is ripe with innuendo. His collection of other poems indicate that fun times may have been few and far in-between in his life. I wonder if he took his brother Tom with him?
Some interesting translations of the vocabulary:
Bourn = stream;
rantipole = wild;
Jack and Gill are names from a well-known nursery rhyme – ‘I”ll be your boy if you’ll be my girl’;
at a parley = having a conversation;
hawing = ‘an inarticulate utterance, as of hesitation, embarrassment, etc.’ – in other words, at this point she stops pretending to be reluctant;
hie = go.
The poem has recently been set to music by David Haines and was premiered in March 2014 by the South Devon Singers at the Teignmouth Classical Music Festival. You can see the performance on Youtube through the following link:
Dawlish Fair ….