John Keats (1795-1821) died at the young age of 25. While alive he lived almost in obscurity but after death he shot to fame. Dana Gioia, an American poet wrote, “Keats in death became the defining symbol of doomed Romantic genius.” Keats qualified to become a doctor but he never practised. He was devoted to poetry. He strove tirelessly to prove his literary genius but the critical hostility from fellow poets and public indifference did not help him fulfillhis ambitions. Today he is considered a genius because his life was short and the work that he turned was intense.
‘Meg Merriles’ is a poem about a gypsy by the same name. She was a gypsy of the Moors who slept on the ‘brown heath turf’ because she did not have any house and the entire world was her house. She ate swart berries and pods for only those were available in the wilderness. For wine she had ‘dew of the wild white rose’. Whatever she read were the writings on the tombs. The hills and the trees were her brothers and sisters and she lived as she pleased. There were days when she did not have her breakfast or dinner and for supper she just stared at the moon. Her routine was to make garlands with woodbine and wove dark glen yew. While she did this she always sang. She made mats from the grass like plant, rushes. She gave those mats to the cottage dwellers of that area. Meg was as brave as Margaret Queen and was as tall as Amazon. She wore a red cloak and a chip hat. This Meg who was a free-spirited woman had died long before and Keats hopes ‘God rest her aged bones somewhere’.
‘Meg Miller’ is a poem of goodness and all that is positive along with Keats lovely imagery of forests, flowers and wild fruits. This delightful poem was written during a walking tour he undertook with his friend Charles Brown. This poem is included in the famed and brilliant letters written by Keats. It is a ballad as it tells a story. There are thirty lines divided into seven stanzas. The rhyme scheme is ABCB in the six stanzas and in the last stanza it is ABCBDB. Imagery is strong as is always in Keats’ poems. The flowers, fruits, wild grasses and a few humanbeings flit across through his imagery. Anaphora is the repetition of words in a linebeginning with the same letter as in
‘Her wine was dew of the wild white rose.’
The hills and trees are personified and are considered as her brothers and sisters and they are one family. In an unusual way the poet compares fruits with fruits. The apple for this gypsy lady was the swart blackberries, the currants were the pods and the wine was the dew of the white rose. Keats is comparing the food-tastes of a city-bred woman with that Meg Miller. The theme of the poem is about a carefree woman who had no home, would not find enough to eat, yet was a strong and carefree woman.