The Keats-Shelley Blog

15 February 2021

Writ in Water, Glass and Lemon Juice: A Keats-Shelley Prize Podcast with Adam Smyth

Adam Smyth, Professor of English Literature at Balliol College, Oxford, explores Keats' epitaph
Professor Adam Smyth inspects a material text

John Keats’ epitaph runs: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’. But what does it mean to write in water? And even more, what does it mean to write ‘writ in water’ on stone? Or is that in stone? Or on water?

Confused? We were, which is why in this episode of the Keats-Shelley Prize Podcast, James Kidd called Adam Smyth, Professor of English Literature at Balliol College, Oxford, and an expert on (or is that in) Material Texts: or the study of people writing with weird things on weird surfaces.

We began by asking Adam to describe what a ‘material text’ might be, and what it means to study them. As well as telling us about poems written in glass and invsible ink (lemon juice to you and me), he cast an eye over Keats’ epitaph, and pondered the fine distinction between writing ‘in water’ and ‘on water’. He also tells a shaggy dog story of the dangers of extreme short-sightedness in a nightclub and expresses a printer’s disbelief that the novel became the dominant literary form.

We also ponder Keats’ writer’s pun about staring out of windows graffitied with the ‘names of Romantic Misses’, and think about William Blake’s extraordinary creative process, sometimes known as ‘relief etching.’

If you want to read the poems and texts under discussion they are as follows.
Fans of Tom Philips’ A Humument:, stay tuned to the very end of the podcast for a little lighthearted homage.

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This podcast was written and presented by James Kidd. The KS Podcast theme tune is ‘Androids Always Escape’ by Chris Zabriskie. Visit