Monday, April 23, 2007

"On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," by John Keats

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then I felt like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez* when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

* I always loved the footnote in my Norton Anthology of English Literature on this line -- that it was Balboa, not Cortez, who first saw the Pacific "matters to history but not to poetry."

More Keats:
To Autumn
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
The Eve of St. Agnes


  1. Another selection that reminds me of Tam Lin. (I enjoyed your Lady's Not for Burning post.)

  2. Do you read "On First Looking..." differently, now that you've read Homer yourself?

  3. Keats was my favorite poet in college. I think I wrote three papers on The Eve of St. Agnes. It has snacks and cute boys sneaking into girls' bedrooms. What's not to love?

    I always found it disconcerting that he died so young. It nags at me that Keats wrote all his best stuff before he was 23. Every year I think about how I'm older than that and ask, "What have I done lately?"

    Now I take comfort with stories of late bloomers like Raymond Chandler and Grandma Moses.


  4. Nope -- it captures my feelings on reading Homer for the first time, but it doesn't change my experience of this poem in particular.

  5. I'm pretty sure I first came across the last few lines of this poem quoted in Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome -- no idea where Darien actually is, mind you, but it's still one of my favourite place names. Arthur Ransome slipped lots of "literature" into his books like that; so did E. Nesbit, come to think of it.

  6. After reading an analysis of this poem from a site my friend gave me, my whole outlook on this poem changed significantly.. There are so many themes conveyed here and yet I never knew they were existant before... Strange, much like described in the poem itself.