The poet Keats does not mention otters in his light-hearted doggerel dedicated to the river Teign (shown below as it looked today). Their absence from Keats's poem is not very surprising since in his day all otters were perceived as Vermin. Back then otters were thought simply to be fish-devouring pests. However, even though they did not appear very often in verse they were there, those secretive spirits of the river, even if they were not considered worth mentioning. And now attitudes have altered, persecution has mostly ceased, and toxic pollution is less of a problem, the otters are protected, and are returning again. Happily it is more fashionable to mention them. Yesterday I spent some time finding their many tracks and spraints in the sandy banks of the sprightly Teign:
And later I found the very silly poem Keats wrote. Or is it silly? He claimed it was, but it is a poem that takes in almost the whole length of the river and reveals much of its ecology, character and emotional resonance - watery, human, animal and otherwise:
Keats dismissed his poem as doggerel; as he says, it's full of predictable rhyme and joyful bawdiness. But having just been to see the river as it slides gracefully through a wooded Dartmoor gorge, and seen it surrounded by the most exuberant display of wild daffodils, with dappled sunlight sifting through the trees and the whispering sibilance of the river all soft and the air sweet with the edge of spring, I can't help feeling something like forgiveness for Keats's easy rhymes. Could his rosy vision of the revels of 'maidens sweet' have been an early depiction of the binge drinkers of his day? Anyway, does it matter, when we can be enraptured beside the riverbank where 'O and O/, the daisies blow and the primroses are waken'd/ and violets white /sit in silver plight..?
'.. There is Newton Marsh
A pleasant summer level
Where the maidens sweet
Of the Market Street,
Do meet in the dusk to revel.
With dyke and ditch
And hedge for the thrush to live in
And the hollow tree
For the buzzing bee
And a bank for the wasp to hive in.
The daisies blow
And the primroses are waken'd,
And violets white
Sit in silver plight,
And the green bud's as long as the spike end.
Any more words?
Afterword: 'dappled prickets' are apparently young male fallow deer, before the new antlers have grown and shed their velvet.