On first looking into Chapman’s Homer
by John Keats (1795–1821)
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.
Here is the poem, spoken by Tom Bedlam (you need to listen to this in order to learn how to correctly pronounce demesne):
STUDY GUIDE: Professor Lilia Melani has created an excellent study guide for this poem. This will help you find and understand Keats’ many allusions.
Here’s a quote from this 1911 biography of Keats: “Keats has been promoted by modern criticism to a place beside Shakespeare. The faultless force and the profound subtlety of his deep and cunning instinct for the absolute expression of absolute natural beauty can hardly be questioned or overlooked; and this is doubtless the one main distinctive gift or power which denotes him as a poet among all his equals, and gives him a right to rank for ever beside Coleridge and Shelley.” It is interesting to note that Keats is now more frequently mentioned together with Byron and Shelley, rather than Coleridge. I don’t think I’d rank him with Shakespeare, but he certainly had a poetic genius.
Here’s a quote from the excellent Poetry Foundation biography of George Chapman: “If one can isolate a central passion in Chapman’s life and works, it would be the central project of Renaissance Christian humanism: an attempt to make literature (among the other disciplines) an instrument for both an upright private ethics and a benevolent and just public policy. In more parochial terms the project intended as well to establish a national literature powerful enough to rival the Latin and the Greek.” I recommend reading the entire biography to learn more about the author whose compelling text inspired Keats and others.
Note the allusion in the title of Professor Leland Ryken’s book, Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective. The more you read, the more connections you can make.