Poems published in 1820, by John Keats

Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.

Souls of Poets dead and gone,

What Elysium have ye known,

Happy field or mossy cavern,

Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?

Have ye tippled drink more fine

Than mine host’s Canary wine?

Or are fruits of Paradise

Sweeter than those dainty pies

Of venison? O generous food!

Drest as though bold Robin Hood 10

Would, with his maid Marian,

Sup and bowse from horn and can.

I have heard that on a day

Mine host’s sign-board flew away,

Nobody knew whither, till

An astrologer’s old quill

To a sheepskin gave the story,

Said he saw you in your glory,

Underneath a new old-sign

Sipping beverage divine, 20

And pledging with contented smack

The Mermaid in the Zodiac.

Souls of Poets dead and gone,

What Elysium have ye known,

Happy field or mossy cavern,

Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?

Notes on Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.

The Mermaid Tavern was an old inn in Bread Street, Cheapside. Tradition says that the literary club there was established by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603. In any case it was, in Shakespeare’s time, frequented by the chief writers of the day, amongst them Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Carew, Donne, and Shakespeare himself. Beaumont, in a poetical epistle to Ben Jonson, writes:

What things have we seen

Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been

So nimble and so full of subtle flame,

As if that any one from whence they came

Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,

And has resolved to live a fool the rest

Of his dull life.


l. 10. bold Robin Hood. Cf. Robin Hood, p. 133.

l. 12. bowse, drink.

ll. 16–17. an astrologer’s . . . story. The astrologer would record, on parchment, what he had seen in the heavens.

l. 22. The Mermaid . . . Zodiac. The zodiac was an imaginary belt across the heavens within which the sun and planets were supposed to move. It was divided into twelve parts corresponding to the twelve months of the year, according to the position of the moon when full. Each of these parts had a sign by which it was known, and the sign of the tenth was a fish-tailed goat, to which Keats refers as the Mermaid. The word zodiac comes from the Greek +zôdion+, meaning a little animal, since originally all the signs were animals.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44