Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Keats at Dawlish

Wayland Wordsmith just featured a nice poem - The Rosy bosom'd Hours - by the little-known Coventry Patmore, which tells of the rail journey of the newly-wed Patmore his second wife from somewhere in southern England (probably from East Grinstead, where Patmore had an estate) via Havant, Salisbury and Dawlish, down to Penzance.

The next day, sweet with luck no less
And sense of sweetness past,
The full tide of our happiness
Rose higher than the last.
At Dawlish, 'mid the pools of brine,
You stept from rock to rock,
One hand quick tightening upon mine,
One holding up your frock.
On starfish and on weeds alone
You seem'd intent to be:
Flash'd those great gleams of hope unknown
From you, or from the sea?

WW mentioned, in connection with this, John Keats and his brother Tom (I've mentioned the Keats/ Teignmouth connection previously). It's good excuse to mention Keats at Dawlish, an interesting post at the blog Weird Materialism. It's good stuff: after general and photographic commentary on Dawlish, it says:

Anyway, what I’m really interested in are the intersections between social and cultural history and poetry

My cup of tea exactly! And quotes firstly Dr Downman's mock-classical poem in praise of Dawlish's benefits to convalescents:

O Dawlish, though unclassic be thy name,
To thee will I consign
Often the timid virgin, to thy pure
Encircling waves; to thee will I consign
The feeble matron; or the child on whom
Thou may’st bestow a second happier birth
From weakness unto strength… 
- Dr. Hugh Downman, Infancy, 1790 - quoted from page 110, Topographical and statistical description of the county of Devon, George Alexander Cooke

... and then goes on to a discussion of John Keats's walk to Dawlish on March 23rd 1818 to visit the Easter Monday fair, and his ensuing poem Dawlish Fair aka Over the hill and over the dale, which is a fantasy of seducing a "rantipole" 1 young Devon woman.


Over the hill and over the dale,
And over the bourn to Dawlish-
Where gingerbread wives have a scanty sale
And gingerbread nuts are smallish.

Rantipole Betty she ran down a hill
And kicked up her petticoats fairly.
Says I, ‘I’ll be Jack if you will be Jill.’-
So she sat on the grass debonairly.

‘Here’s somebody coming, here’s somebody coming!’
Says I ”tis the wind at a parley.’
So without any fuss, any hawing and humming
She lay on the grass debonairly.

‘Here’s somebody here and here’s somebody there!
Says I, ‘Hold your tongue you young gipsy.’
So she held her tongue and lay plump and fair
And dead as a Venus tipsy.

Oh, who wouldn’t hie to Dawlish fair,
Oh, who wouldn’t stop in a meadow,
Oh, who would not rumple the daisies there
And make the wild fern for a bed do!

Keats seems to have taken a fancy to Devon barmaids: see page 74, John Keats, Selected Letters, OUP, 2002.

Weird Materialism has another post very much in my territory: Victorian Values: Swinburne and Tennyson on the Isle of Wight.

I spent my sixty first birthday wandering around places on the Isle of Wight with Victorian literary connections ...

Great! I hope to be doing much the same.

1. rantipole: "Now chiefly arch. and literary. adj. wild, disorderly, rakish, boisterous; (also) crazy, wildly irrational or eccentric.

- Ray

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