The two months he spent in Teignmouth in the spring of 1818 inspired three of John Keats’s most pedestrian poems.  Seventeen miles southwest of Exeter on the English Channel, Teignmouth at the time was developing a reputation as a spa town particularly attractive to those seeking healthful air and invigorating sea baths.  Keats and his brother Tom made the 27-hour coach trip from London hoping to find relief for Tom’s worsening consumption (Motion 236), but the fickle English weather conspired against them. As Keats wittily observed in a letter to his friend Benjamin Bailey:  “‘you may say what you will of Devonshire: the t[r]uth is, it is a splashy, rainy, misty snowy, foggy, haily floody, muddy, slipshod Country—the hills are very beautiful, when you get the sight of ‘em—the Primroses are out, but then you are in—the Cliffs are of a fine deep Colour, but then the Clouds are continually vieing with them. . .’” (qtd. in Motion 236).

 

The three poems—“For there’s Bishop’s Teign,” “Where be ye going, you Devon maid,” and “Over the hill and over the Dale”—are jaunty responses to the landscape, even though Keats described them as “‘doggerel [or] perhaps you would like a bit of B[itc]hrell’” (qtd by Allott 318).   “For there’s Bishop’s Teign” catalogues the bewildering array of place names associated with the River Teign:

 

                                    For there’s Bishop’s Teign

                                    And King’s Teign

                        And Coomb at the clear Teign head—

                                    Where close by the stream

                                    You may have your cream

                        All spread upon barley bread.

 

As Keats concludes:

                                    Then who would go

                                    Into dark Soho,

                        And chatter with dacked-haired critics,

                                    When he can stay

                                    For the new-mown hay

                        And startle the dappled prickets?

 

Who indeed?

 

 

Allott, Miriam, ed.  Keats:  The Complete Poems.  London:  Longman Group Ltd., 1970.

 Motion, Andrew.  Keats. London:  Faber and Faber, 1997.

 

© Copyright Kim McMullen 2007