On First Looking Into Chapman`s Homer John Keats (1795

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On First Looking Into
Chapman’s Homer
John Keats (1795-1821)
The Poet
John Keats was born in London on Halloween in 1795
and died in Rome from tuberculosis at the age of 25.
He is noted for writing in a wide range of poetic forms,
including the sonnet, Spenserian romance, Miltonic epic,
and the ode.
His unique style features a “distinctive fusion of earnest
energy, control of conflicting perspectives and forces,
poetic self-consciousness, and…dry ironic wit.”
In his time, reviewers attacked his work as “mawkish and
bad-mannered,” "vulgar,” and as consisting of "the most
incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language."
A Romantic Poet
“Keats today is seen as one of the canniest readers,
interpreters, questioners, of the ‘modern’ poetic
project…to create poetry in a world devoid of mythic
grandeur, poetry that sought its wonder in the desires
and sufferings of the human heart. Beyond his precise
sense of the difficulties presented him in his own
literary-historical moment, he developed with
unparalleled rapidity, in a relative handful of
extraordinary poems, a rich, powerful, and exactly
controlled poetic style that ranks Keats as one of the
greatest lyric poets in English”
(Poetry Foundation).
Title
The title refers to George Chapman’s
translation of Homer’s The Illiad and
The Odyssey.
It suggests that Keats was inspired by
Homer’s work and in particular,
Chapman’s translation.
Keats found the work so personally
meaningful that upon his first reading he
was moved to compare the experience
to other emotional and imaginative
states.
Paraphrase
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Where bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Keats’ imagination is vast. He has read and
explored the classics of the literary world.
Paraphrase
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
But before reading Chapman’s translation he did
not understand the genius and deep thought of
Homer’s work.
Paraphrase
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 stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Reading Chapman’s translation has revealed a new
dimension or world to Keats. It has given him a new
sense of power.
He compares it to looking in the sky and finding a
new planet or to the discovery of the Pacific.
Paraphrase
Look’d at each other with a wild surmiseSilent, upon a peak in Darien.
The discovery of the Pacific left
Cortez’s men speechless and full of
wonder…
…just like Keats upon reading
Chapman’s Homer?
Figurative Language
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Where bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Allusions
“western islands” = the voyages of Odysseus
“bards” = Shakespeare? Or poets in general
Apollo = Greek God of music and poetry
Figurative Language
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Metaphor
“one wide expanse” = poetry, as vast as the sea
“demense” = estate, property
“Yet did I never breathe its pure serene”
Figurative Language
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 stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Simile
“Then felt I like some watcher of the skies” and
“Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes”
Personification
“When a new planet swims into his ken”
Figurative Language
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 stared at the Pacific—and all his men
As the men who discovered the Pacific did not just
glance at it but stared at it and digested its beauty,
so too did Keats take in with full amazement the
beauty of Homer’s epic.
Figurative Language
Look’d at each other with a wild surmiseSilent, upon a peak in Darien.
Diction
“wild surmise” suggests Keats
has an extreme excitement and
curiosity about the work
Allusion
“Darien” = isthmus in Panama
Figurative Language
Structure
14 lines
ABBA ABBA CDCDCD rhyme scheme
Petrarchan sonnet: octave and sestet
“The octave bears the burden; a doubt, a problem, a
reflection, a query, an historical statement, a cry of
indignation or desire, a vision of the ideal. The
sestet eases the load, resolves the problem or doubt,
answers the query, solaces the yearning, realizes the
vision” (Filreis).
Attitude/Tone
“Then I felt like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken”
“Look’d at each other with a wild surmiseSilent, upon a peak in Darien.”
Strong senses and heightened emotions, evoke a
feeling of awe, and an excitement at discovery
Shift
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 stared at the Pacific- and all his men
“Then” moves the poem to the new idea of how
Chapman’s Homer effects Keats.
Theme
Think outside the box and extend beyond
this poem! What is the message for you?
Watch the video on the next slide. What
enduring understanding is revealed by
examining this modern-day allusion to Keats’
sonnet?
An Unconventional “Reading”
What enduring understanding is revealed by
examining this modern-day allusion to Keats’
sonnet?

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