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Analysis of Lines on the mermaid Tavern by John Keats

Lines on the mermaid Tavern

John Keats was one of the main poets in the second generation of Romantic Poets. Others were Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Keats was born on October 31st 1795, studied to become a surgeon but quit that profession to write poetry. He lost his father and one brother to tuberculosis and sadly at the age of 25 on February 23rd 1821 Keats succumbed to it as well. While he was alive his work was not accepted by his critics. His works got published only four years before his death. However after his death and to this day John Keats is considered as one of the best poet of the Romantic poets.


‘Lines on the Mermaid Tavern’ was written early in February, 1818 and it was published in 1820. This is a poem where Keats is comparing the world to Elysium, the abode of the blessed after death, according to classical mythology. He is wondering where the souls of the dead poet have gone. Was it a ‘happy field’ or ‘mossy cavern’? Was it better than the Mermaid Tavern? Mermaid Tavern must have been a bar in the real world. So the next question is about the drinks and fruits served in Elysium. He wants to know if the drinks were better than the canary wine had here. And was there enough food going around like in the feasts given by Robin Hood and his love Marian?

In the second stanza says he tells about the shifting of the ‘tavern’. Probably he was abroad for he says that he had ‘heard’ that the bar had closed. Then he heard that it had opened shop in another place and with a slightly different name. At first it was ‘Mermaid Tavern’ and now it was known as ‘The Mermaid in the Zodiac’. In the last stanza he repeats the first four lines of the first stanza where he asks if Elysium was better than Mermaid Tavern.

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There are 26 lines in the poem ‘Lines on the Mermaid Tavern’, divided into three stanzas. The rhymes scheme is AABBCCDDEE….. Since the last stanza is a repeat of the first four lines it is AABB. The poem flits from imagery of heaven to the ones on the earth. There is contrasting imagery as well like ‘Happy field or mossy cavern ‘.The title suggest that he felt that the Mermaid Tavern was the best as he talks more about its wine, pies and also traces its movement to another place. Maybe the bar was very dear to him. ‘Mine host’s sign-board flew away’ is a rhetoric figure used and it synecdoche. Synecdoche is a poetic device where a part is mentioned to speak for the whole. He says that the ‘sign board flew away’ instead of saying that the tavern had closed. In the same the rhetoric is used to say that it had opened in another place under a different name. Another poetic device used is the refrain, repetition of lines. A refrain ideally are lines repeated many times but here it is used only once. Enjambment is used in the line

Sweeter than those dainty pies

Of venison?

Enjambment is a device where the thought that begins in one line ends in the next. He uses this mostly to keep his rhyme intact. John Keats must have known his death was nearing and is pondering how Elysium would be in comparison to what he had already seen and experienced.