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The Mermaid Tavern

25 Jul
Sketch of John Keats.

Sketch of John Keats. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Would, with his maid Marian,

Sup and bowse from horn and can.

        -from Lines on the Mermaid Tavern by John Keats

I’ve always enjoyed Keats’ poetry and Lines on the Mermaid Tavern is one of my favorite poems from him. However, because of my woeful knowledge of history I never realized that the Mermaid Tavern had been a real tavern in London.

While browsing through another collection of poetry, “Ben Johnson and the Cavalier Poets” (W.W. Norton, 1974 – does Norton know how to do anthologies or what?) I came across a reference to the Mermaid Tavern in conjunction with Richard Corbett, another poet. Further research yielded some details. It seems that the Mermaid Tavern was a celebrated meeting place for scholars, lawyers and poets during the early- to mid-1600s. It was located in London’s Cheapside, east of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The “Friday Street Club,” a literary club started by Sir Walter Ralegh in 1603, held its meetings there. The Mermaid’s other famous patrons included Ben Jonson, John Donne and William Shakespeare.

What is it with English writers and pubs?

Unfortunately, the Mermaid Tavern was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September of 1666. It was memorialized in verse by Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont and, nearly 200 years later, John Keats.

Souls of Poets dead and gone,

What Elysium have ye known,

Happy field or mossy cavern,

Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?

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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in History, Poetry

 

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