John Keats

(31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821 / London, England)

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer

Much have I travell'd 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-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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  • Leonard Wilson (3/19/2010 6:40:00 PM)

    This poem is a celebration of the great impact that fine literature can have upon the reader. The 'realms of gold' and the states and kingdoms represent places that Keats has visited through his reading. The western islands are the isles in the area of Greece. Perhaps Keats had read some of Homer's writings in other translations, such as that of Dryden, but a friend had just exposed him to a much freer translation by an Elizabethan playwright named George Chapman, and the two friends spent most of a night reading it together with great delight. Keats wrote this sonnet early in the morning to express the depths of emotion that had been stirred up by Homer's classic. He compares the discovery of this new translation to the discovery of a new planet by an astronomer and to the first sighting of the Pacific Ocean from the Americas by a European. He makes a very famous error here by attributing the 'discovery' of the Pacific to Cortez, when in reality it was Balboa who first sighted the ocean, which he called the South Sea, from what is now Panama. Keats's friend immediately spotted the error, but Keats chose not to change the name because it would spoil the meter of the line. The mistake did nothing to lessen the effectiveness of Keats's expression of his joy at experiencing a great work of art in a new and exciting way. (Report) Reply

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