The third poem recorded by The Poetry Archive for Writing Places is ‘Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid’ by John Keats read by Sir Andrew Motion.
‘Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid’ by John Keats read by Sir Andrew Motion
John Keats is considered to be one the greatest English poets who ever lived and a key figure in the romantic movement.
He was born in 1795, the eldest of five children born to Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings. His parents managed a livery in North London owned by his grandparents and it is here that John spent his early years before moving to a larger house nearby.
John was 9 when his father died after falling off his horse and his mother, obviously desperate and alone with her four children, remarried a mere two months later. The marriage was a disaster and it wasn’t long before John and his siblings found themselves living with their grandparents. Sadly, John’s grandfather died not long, followed by his mother and grandmother, and the stables were now the property of his stepfather. Having been left a successful business, Keat’s mother had left her children with no financial stability and this was the beginning of a lifetime of financial difficulties for John and his siblings.
The children’s new guardian, a man called Abbey, removed John from school upon his mother’s death and found him an apprenticeship at an apothecary. John moved on to Guy’s Hospital to continue his medical training but his ever growing interest in poetry meant he was more likely to be found ‘scribbling some doggerel lines’, as described by a contemporary at the time, than reading about medicine.
Abbey did not approve of John becoming a poet, but Keats pursued this path nonetheless and in 1816, as well as becoming a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, he also had his first poem published in The Examiner. It is at this time that Keats finally abandoned medicine and dedicated himself completely to being a poet.
In 1817 his first volume, Poems, was published and Keats found himself drawn to studying not only his heroes, Coleridge and Wordsworth, but also his contemporaries, Shelley and Byron. He spent some time travelling and ended up in Oxford, a period that saw a new dedication to this literary career.
In 1818, Keats fell in love with a neighbour of his, 18 year old Fanny Brawne This was the beginning of Keats’ most creative period. He wrote, among other works, ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and ‘To Autumn’. Ode to a Nightingale, amongst others, is considered to be one of the greatest short poems in the English language.
Keats became engaged to Fanny in 1819 but his financial difficulties were so severe that there was little chance of them marrying and early the following year he became unwell with symptoms of tuberculosis, the disease that had killed his mother and one of his brothers. His second volume of poetry was published in the July but by this time Keats was extremely ill. He travelled to Rome with a friend in hope that the warmer weather would improve his health but by the time he arrived he was confined to bed. On February 23rd 1821, John Keats died and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. He was only 25 years old.