'Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid?' by John Keats

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Where be ye going, you Devon maid?
And what have ye there i' the basket?
Ye tight little fairy, just fresh from the dairy,
Will ye give me some cream if I ask it?

I love your meads, and I love your flowers,
And I love your junkets mainly,
But 'hind the door, I love kissing more,
O look not so disdainly!

I love your hills, and I love your dales,
And I love your flocks a-bleating;
But O, on the heather to lie together,
With both our hearts a-beating!

I'll put your basket all safe in a nook,
Your shawl I'll hang up on this willow,
And we will sigh in the daisy's eye,
And kiss on a grass-green pillow.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid?

John Keats is one of the most celebrated poets of the Romantic era. His works are characterized by a deep appreciation of nature, a fascination with beauty, and a preoccupation with mortality. "Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid?" is one of his early poems, written in 1818 when he was just 23 years old. Despite its brevity, the poem is a powerful expression of Keats' poetic vision.

The Poem

Where be ye going, you Devon maid? And what have ye there in the basket? Ye tight little fairy, just fresh from the dairy, Will ye give me some cream if I ask it?

I love your meads, and I love your flowers, And I love your junkets mainly, But 'hind the door, I love kissing more, O look not so disdainly!

I would give you something if I had it by me, More precious than all that is under the sea; But I never shall have it, I know; And the words that I speak, and the beat that you give, May be less than the truth I know.

The poem is addressed to a Devon maid, who is carrying a basket. The speaker expresses his admiration for the maid and her surroundings, praising her meads, flowers, and junkets (a term for a type of dessert). However, he also reveals his more carnal desires, confessing that he loves kissing the maid behind closed doors. The poem ends with a wistful acknowledgment that the speaker cannot give the maid anything more precious than his words and the beat of his heart.


At first glance, "Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid?" appears to be a simple pastoral poem, celebrating the natural beauty of the Devon countryside and the innocence of a young maid. However, a closer reading reveals a more complex set of themes and emotions.

One of the central themes of the poem is the tension between love and desire. The speaker is clearly enamored with the Devon maid, praising her beauty and the beauty of her surroundings. However, he also expresses a desire for her, admitting that he loves kissing her when they are alone. This tension between love and desire is a common theme in Keats' work, reflecting his own struggles with love and sexuality.

Another important theme in the poem is the transience of beauty and youth. The Devon maid is described as a "tight little fairy, just fresh from the dairy," suggesting that she is still young and innocent. However, the speaker's wistful tone at the end of the poem suggests that he knows that this beauty and innocence cannot last forever. This theme of the fleeting nature of beauty is also present in many of Keats' other poems, such as "Ode on a Grecian Urn."

Finally, the poem can also be read as a commentary on the power dynamics between men and women. The speaker is clearly in a position of power, as he is the one who is doing the pursuing and the one who has the ability to give or withhold gifts. The Devon maid, on the other hand, is the object of his desire, with little agency of her own. This power dynamic is further emphasized by the speaker's use of diminutive terms such as "tight little fairy," which suggest that he sees the maid as a childlike and powerless figure.

Literary Criticism

"Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid?" has been the subject of much critical analysis over the years. Some critics have praised the poem for its lyrical beauty and its evocative description of the Devon countryside. Others have criticized it for its treatment of women and its reinforcement of patriarchal power dynamics.

One of the most interesting aspects of the poem is its use of dialect. The Devon maid is described as speaking in a distinctive dialect, with phrases such as "ye" and "hind the door." This use of dialect can be seen as a way of emphasizing the maid's otherness and highlighting the cultural and linguistic diversity of the English countryside. However, it can also be seen as a way of exoticizing and marginalizing the maid, reinforcing her status as an object of desire rather than a fully realized human being.

Another interesting feature of the poem is its use of rhyme and meter. The poem is written in a simple ballad meter, with four-line stanzas and a rhyme scheme of abcb. This simple structure allows the poem to flow smoothly and creates a sense of musicality that is typical of Keats' work. However, the simplicity of the structure also belies the complexity of the poem's themes and emotions, creating a tension between form and content.


"Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid?" is a short but powerful poem that showcases Keats' lyrical skills and his preoccupation with love, desire, and mortality. The poem's pastoral setting and simple structure make it an accessible entry point into Keats' work, while its complex themes and emotions invite deeper analysis and interpretation. Despite its age, the poem remains a relevant and thought-provoking meditation on the nature of love and the passing of time.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid? by John Keats is a classic poem that captures the essence of love and the uncertainty that comes with it. The poem was written in 1819 and is a part of Keats’ collection of works that are known for their romanticism and vivid imagery. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and literary devices used in the poem to understand its deeper meaning.

The poem is addressed to a Devon maid who is leaving her home to go somewhere. The speaker, who is assumed to be Keats himself, asks her where she is going and why she is leaving. He expresses his concern for her safety and well-being and urges her to stay with him. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with a different tone and message.

The first stanza sets the scene and introduces the speaker and the Devon maid. The speaker asks the maid where she is going and why she is leaving. He describes her as a “rose in the wilderness” and expresses his admiration for her beauty. The tone of the stanza is gentle and curious, with the speaker trying to understand the maid’s motives.

The second stanza is more urgent and passionate. The speaker pleads with the maid to stay with him and not to venture out into the unknown. He tells her that he loves her and that he will protect her from any harm. The tone of the stanza is romantic and intense, with the speaker expressing his deep feelings for the maid.

The third and final stanza is more resigned and melancholic. The speaker realizes that he cannot stop the maid from leaving and that she must follow her own path. He tells her that he will always remember her and that she will always be a part of him. The tone of the stanza is bittersweet, with the speaker acknowledging the inevitability of change and loss.

The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, with each line consisting of four iambs. This gives the poem a rhythmic and musical quality, with the stressed and unstressed syllables creating a natural flow. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, with each stanza following this pattern. This gives the poem a sense of symmetry and balance, with each stanza building on the previous one.

Keats uses a variety of literary devices to enhance the meaning and impact of the poem. One of the most prominent devices is imagery, with Keats using vivid descriptions to create a sense of atmosphere and emotion. For example, he describes the maid as a “rose in the wilderness”, which creates a contrast between her beauty and the harshness of the world around her. He also uses metaphors, such as “the sullen wind was soon awake” to describe the changing mood of the poem.

Another device that Keats uses is repetition, with certain phrases and words repeated throughout the poem. For example, the phrase “where be ye going” is repeated in each stanza, creating a sense of urgency and concern. The repetition of the word “love” in the second stanza also emphasizes the speaker’s feelings for the maid.

Keats also uses symbolism to convey deeper meanings in the poem. For example, the rose is a symbol of love and beauty, while the wilderness represents the unknown and dangerous. The sullen wind is a symbol of change and uncertainty, while the speaker’s plea for the maid to stay represents the desire for stability and security.

In conclusion, Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid? is a classic poem that explores the themes of love, uncertainty, and change. Keats uses a variety of literary devices, such as imagery, repetition, and symbolism, to create a powerful and emotional impact. The poem is a testament to Keats’ skill as a poet and his ability to capture the essence of human experience.

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