John Keats

A Song About Myself by John Keats

‘A Song About Myself’ is a joyous poem in which a young boy travels, writes poetry, catches fish, and learns about himself and others. 

A Song About Myself’ is a very unusual John Keats poem. Lovers of his poetry will likely find themselves surprised at its light-hearted and even whimsical nature. Keats makes use of techniques more align with children’s nonsense verse than the odes and sonnets he’s best-known for. This piece is often read by schoolchildren as an entry-level introduction to the poet’s work, much of which is far too complicated for young readers. Although Keats talks about a young child throughout this piece, the title, ‘A Song About Myself,’ seems to quite obviously suggest that this is how Keats saw himself.

A Song About Myself by John Keats


Summary of A Song About Myself

A Song About Myself’ by John Keats is a light-hearted, nonsensical poem in which the speaker describes a boy’s travels, habits, and eccentricities.

In the first stanza of ‘A Song About Myself,’ the speaker begins by describing a naughty young boy who decided to pack up his bag and travel to the north, to Scotland. He packed a lot into his small bag and set out exactly when and where he chose.  Keats uses the humorous description of the boy following his “nose” there. In the second stanza, he spends time talking about the boy’s love for poetry, another clear reference to the poet’s own interests, and how he wanted to disappear into the mountains and write. There, he’s seen “witches” and “ditches” and more. 

The following stanza is about the child’s love of fishing and how he’d keep the fish in a washing tub. In the last stanza, the poet returns to the image of the child walking north to Scotland. When he got there, he realized that everything was very similar to the country he’d just left. Weights, distances, and people were exactly alike. This is something that surprised and left him somewhat in shock. The poem ends on this note, creating a nice moral for a young reader to consider. 



‘A Song About Myself’ was inspired by a walking tour that Keats began in June of 1818. He traveled through Scotland, Ireland, and the Lake District along with one of his close friends. For a time, he also walked with his brother and his wife. The tour was filled with highs and lows, many of which are detailed in letters. Keats, unfortunately, caught a bad cold, and their journey was cut short. When he returned home, he went back to nursing, his brother, Tom, who was suffering from tuberculosis, a disease that eventually took his life. Tom is far from the only member of the Keats family to die of tuberculosis. Keats’s mother died of it when he was only fourteen, and Keats himself died of TB when he was 25, only two years after his walking tour. 


Structure and Form

A Song About Myself’ by John Keats is a four-stanza poem separated into two sets of twenty-five lines (stanzas one and four) and two sets of thirty-four lines (stanzas two and three). These lines do not follow a single rhyme scheme throughout the entire piece but do make use of a great deal of rhyme. For example, the first seven lines of the first stanza follow a pattern of ABCBDED. There are moments in which the lines rhyme in couplets or pairs of two, and the same end sound is repeated multiple times. 

Readers should also notice right away how unusual the structure is for a Keats poem. Keats is mainly known for his serious and usually complicated love poems and odes. This piece is quite different. The lines are very short, between two and five words in length, and pile up on top of one another to create towering stanzas of verse. The poem immediately reads differently, as well. It was clearly written with a younger audience in mind. 


Literary Devices

Keats makes use of several literary devices in ‘A Song About Myself.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, imagery, and anaphora. The latter is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet uses the same phrase or word at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “And” begins six lines in a row in stanza two. “To,” in the same stanza, is another good example. It begins five lines at the end of the poem. 

Alliteration is another form of repetition. It is focused on using and reusing the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “home” and “He” in line three of the first stanza and “nose” and “north” in lines twenty-four and twenty-five of the first stanza. In these lines, readers will also find more general examples of repetition as the poet uses the same words and the same rhyme sounds multiple times. This is a common technique in children’s poetry. 

Enjambment is a formal device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of stanza two as well as lines three and four of stanza three. Imagery is another poetic device that’s quite important in ‘A Song About Myself.’ The poem uses interesting descriptions throughout. For example, “  That a cherry / Was as red, / That lead / Was as weighty” in stanza three. 


Analysis of A Song About Myself 

Stanza One 

There was a naughty boy,

A naughty boy was he,

He would not stop at home,

He could not quiet be-

He took

In his knapsack

A book

Full of vowels

And a shirt

With some towels,

A slight cap

For night cap,

A hair brush,

Comb ditto,

New stockings

For old ones

Would split O!

This knapsack

Tight at’s back

He rivetted close

And followed his nose

To the north,

To the north,

And follow’d his nose

To the north.

In the first stanza of ‘A Song About Myself,’ Keats’ speaker describes a young “naughty” boy. This child “would not stop at home” and was determined to set out on a trip to the North. The “North” is generally considered to be Scotland, aligning with the poet’s own trip there when he was twenty-two. This character is younger than Keats was then. He’s more outrageous and nonsensical as well. The following lines include some of the many things that the child packed into his backpack. These included “A Slight cap” and “New stockings.” He wanted to make sure he had the latter as he knew his “old” stockings would certainly “split.” The sack was tight “at’s back,” or “at his” back, and he followed his “nose.” 

There are a lightheartedness and freedom to these lines that any young reader, or any reader for that matter, should enjoy. The child went where he pleased and decided that now was the best time to depart. Keats uses repetition at the end of this stanza, using the line “To the north” three times, creating what feels like a mantra. It’s easy to imagine the child walking, repeating this to himself. Perhaps this is what Keats felt like when he set off on his own walking tour. 


Stanza Two 

There was a naughty boy

And a naughty boy was he,

For nothing would he do

But scribble poetry-

He took

An ink stand

In his hand

And a pen

Big as ten

In the other,

And away

In a pother

He ran

To the mountains

And fountains

And ghostes

And postes

And witches

And ditches

And wrote

In his coat

When the weather

Was cool,

Fear of gout,

And without

When the weather

Was warm-

Och the charm

When we choose

To follow one’s nose

To the north,

To the north,

To follow one’s nose

To the north!

The second stanza is similar to the first in that the child continues on his journey, and Keats uses techniques like repetition to make it an amusing one. The stanza starts in the same way with the line, “There was a naughty boy.” In an obvious connection to Keats, the child is described as doing nothing but “scribbling poetry.” The child took up his pen and paper and ran into the mountains, where he could explore the “ghostes,” “postes,” “ditches,” and “witches.” These perfect rhymes come one after another, all preceded by “And,” creating a very obvious example of anaphora. These lines are also an example of another technique known as accumulation. 

The following lines describe how the child wrote in all weather and all climates as he made his way “To the north.” He was still following his nose as well. The stanza ends with the same repetition, three times, of “To the north.” 


Stanza Three 

There was a naughty boy

And a naughty boy was he,

He kept little fishes

In washing tubs three

In spite

Of the might

Of the maid

Nor afraid

Of his Granny-good-

He often would

Hurly burly

Get up early

And go

By hook or crook

To the brook

And bring home

Miller’s thumb,


Not over fat,

Minnows small

As the stall

Of a glove,

Not above

The size

Of a nice

Little baby’s

Little fingers-

O he made

‘Twas his trade

Of fish a pretty kettle

A kettle-

A kettle

Of fish a pretty kettle

A kettle!

The third stanza is the second thirty-four-line stanza of the poem. It also beings the same way as the previous stanzas. This reemphasizes on the child’s naughtiness is interesting. It’s a good formal example of repetition, but it also reinforces the image of the child as doing something wrong. 

This stanza follows a slightly different pattern than the previous. In these lines, Keats uses language to his advantage to describe the child traveling to the stream and catching fish. He’d keep them in “washing tubs three” despite what anyone else said. He couldn’t be deterred. Now, rather than focusing on the child’s travels to the north, the stanza’s final lines describe the size of the fish and bring in the image of a kettle. 


Stanza Four 

There was a naughty boy,

And a naughty boy was he,

He ran away to Scotland

The people for to see-

There he found

That the ground

Was as hard,

That a yard

Was as long,

That a song

Was as merry,

That a cherry

Was as red,

That lead

Was as weighty,

That fourscore

Was as eighty,

That a door

Was as wooden

As in England-

So he stood in his shoes

And he wonder’d,

He wonder’d,

He stood in his

Shoes and he wonder’d.

The final stanza goes back down to twenty-five lines and also begins in the same way as the previous. The next lines solidify the fact that the child was going to Scotland. There, he discovered several things, all of which added together were a lesson about how similar people are all over the world. The colors, shapes, weights, and distances were all the same there. Doors were as “wooden / As in England,” he adds towards the end of the stanza, a very wonderful simile that helps to bring the poem towards its conclusion. The poem ends with the naughty child learning about Scotland and other people. He stood and he “wonder’d,” marveling over the fact that he’s so similar to those he met in this new country. 


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘A Song About Myself’ should also consider reading some of John Keats’s other poems. For example, 

  • Ode on a Grecian Urn’is a famous ode Keats wrote in regard to a Greek urn or vase. He uses complex language to depict it and the images he can see on its sides. 
  • O Solitude if I must with thee dwell’is a sonnet in which Keats’s speaker discusses the power of nature and his desire to disappear into it.
  • Ode to a Nightingale’is a much-loved poem and Keats most famous ode. In it, he describes his speaker’s jealously over the beautiful sounds a nightingale can create. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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