Upon First Looking Upon Chapman’s Homer by John Keats

On first looking into Chapman’s Homer

by John Keats  (1795–1821)

John Keats was a Romantic poet.

John Keats by Joseph Severn
oil on ivory, 1819 (NPG 1605)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Creative Commons License

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.

Biography of John Keats

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.

George Chapman

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.

Chapman’s translation of The Odysseys of Homer, Part I

Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective by Leland Ryken 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.


Other John Keats poems

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