Meg Merrilies

Old Meg she was a Gipsy,
And liv'd upon the Moors:
Her bed it was the brown heath turf,
And her house was out of doors.
Her apples were swart blackberries,
Her currants pods o' broom;
Her wine was dew of the wild white rose,
Her book a churchyard tomb.
Her Brothers were the craggy hills,
Her Sisters larchen trees--
Alone with her great family
She liv'd as she did please.
No breakfast had she many a morn,
No dinner many a noon,
And 'stead of supper she would stare
Full hard against the Moon.
But every morn of woodbine fresh
She made her garlanding,
And every night the dark glen Yew
She wove, and she would sing.
And with her fingers old and brown
She plaited Mats o' Rushes,
And gave them to the Cottagers
She met among the Bushes.
Old Meg was brave as Margaret Queen
And tall as Amazon:
An old red blanket cloak she wore;
A chip hat had she on.
God rest her aged bones somewhere--
She died full long agone

Background and Lyrical Explanation

The character of “Meg Merrilies” originally derives from the book “Guy Mannering,” a novel written by Sir William Scott in 1815. She plays a gypsy and fortune teller within the life of the Mannering’s life a key role within the book. Keats, inspired from a description of the book and character profile by his comrade Charles Brown was inspired to write this poem during a walking tour to Scotland. Brown wrote:

“I chatted half the way about Guy Mannering, for it happened that Keats had not read that novel, and I enjoyed the recollection of events as I described them in their own scenes. There was a little spot, close to our pathway, where, without a shadow of a doubt, old Meg Merrilies had often boiled her kettle and, cooked a chicken… It was among fragments of rock, and brambles and broom…”

During their walk and after breakfast that morning Brown wrote, “I could not avoid Keat’s letter was not running in regular prose. He told me he was writing to his little sister, and giving a ballad on old Meg for her amusement.”