Sunday, 20 September 2009


There is a soldier’s wind and it is a mild day. Come with me in my boat, Poppy, which also serves me now and again as a time machine, and let us cruise as far as Teignmouth and the Regency. True we are no longer in the Estuary but we are only a sea mile or two away and in Teignmouth we can visit the boy poet John Keats.

I imagine John Keats would not have answered to boy but surely that’s what he was first and last. And here he is, in love with words, drunk with words : - “You may say what you will of Devonshire. The truth is, it is a splashy, rainy, misty, snowy, foggy, haily, floody, muddy, slipshod county.”

“Give me a really good rhyme for Dawlish, dear Tom!” His teenage brother, Tom, much loved, even paler, only months away from death, is sprawled on the bed. They are lodging at Number 20, 21 or 22, the Strand, Teignmouth, perhaps even at the house that bears the plaque. John is working hard and falling over every really good rhyme that presents itself.

“Dawlish/smallish, dear brother?”

“Brilliant dear Tom! I don’t know how you do it.” And then the scratching of the quill as the boy-poet makes a gingerbread feast of it:

And Tom laughs and John laughs and then the boys flutter out, like pale ephemera, into Teignmouth Strand still laughing and it is a day in May though not sunny and the pretty girls in the bonnet shop laugh with them and so does the Devon maid whom John Keats fancies and wants to kiss behind the door.

And ginger is the spice of the moment.

Tomorrow: More Keats.

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