Look in any Devon guide book and Teignmouth equals Keats. It is of course quite unfair, this unreasonable monopoly, this power that the long dead poets exercise on our minds, our memories, our too many books.
Keats was in Teignmouth for only five minutes, for three weeks, okay three months perhaps, and yet by some magic he has somehow taken the place over. And can Teignmouth not boast long-resident and memorable dentists, house-agents, stockbrokers, bankers, perhaps even engineers, scientists? Certainly I am sure the town has seen many excellent butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, beggarmen and thieves. But the little place can’t escape the poet any more than I can.
So, homeward bound now, I bring my boat in close to the shore where the rocks are yet again green with sea-weed and there I see them, the doomed boys, the pale poet standing, frowning, I recognise him from Haydon’s sketch, and the little brother, curled up on a rock like a mermaid. Their ghosts watch me pass. I know what John is thinking: every maw, the greater on the less feeds evermore. That’s the way of the sea all right.
I give the matter some solemn thought and scrabble about to find a mackerel line.
No madam! There is no escaping dead poets. They cling like Lampits.
Tomorrow: An old church tower.