Home » John Keats (1795-1821) Biography: Facts and Complete works » On first looking into Chapman’s Homer

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.

 

 About The Poet

John Keats was a prolific English poet born in London. He died at the age of 25 due to Tuberculosis. Keats dealt mainly with the themes of realism and romanticism. He fell into the category of second generation romantic poets. His work was marked by the profundity and it became the nucleus for all the upcoming poets and authors.

He rose to fame after his demise and was highly recognized in the Victorian period, especially by one of the most famous authors of the era, Tennyson. He was lauded for his works like ‘Ode to a nightingale’, ‘On first looking into Chapman Homer’, ‘Sleep and Poetry.

The sonnet, ‘On first looking into Chapman Homer’ was written by Keats when he was just 20 years old, where he explores the thrill of traveling the world through literature. The sonnet talks about the amazement the poet felt when he read George Chapman’s translations of the works of the Greek poet, Homer.

Summary

‘On the first looking into Chapman Homer’, is a sonnet written by John Keats in October 1816. Keats has tried to show the transportative power of literature which enables him to travel new worlds which are yet to be discovered or are discovered but unexplored by him.

Throughout the poem there is an underlying feeling of astonishment which the poet goes through after reading Homer’s works translated by Chapman. Through this translation, Keats has been able to traverse places both imaginary and real described by Homer which he had earlier heard of as just ‘Homer’s demesne’.

The title of the poem tells us that the speaker is having a look at Chapman’s translation of Homer’s work giving us the idea that the poem is revolving around one’s fruitful experience of reading literature and being able to get teleported to a new place instantly.

The first four lines of the poem talks about the places the speaker has explored. Whether these places were actually explored by him or have been pictured by him through literature remains unclear. However, it is assumed that these experiences are a figment of his imagination gifted to him by literature.

“Realms of gold” are indicative of the places traveled by the “goodly states” or the “kingdoms” or the islands where the “bards” held high regard for God Apollo are all places untouched by him/her in person, and are the rewards for reading literature.

Lines 5-8 shows how the speaker who had only heard about certain places like the “Homer’s demesne” were unknown to him till he read Chapman’s translation:

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold”

What is important to note here is the way George Chapman has translated everything. His choice of words like “pure” and “serene” depict how wonderfully the place is described which results in captivating the audience and taking them to that place thereof.

Lines 9-14

After reading the translation, a place that was only a place in its name now came into life and was surreal. The serenity it beheld was beyond words. The speaker felt as if he was the “watcher of the skies”, an astronomer viewing planets closely. The experience is similar to that of the explorer Cortez when he witnessed the Pacific ocean with his “eagle eyes” and gave way eventually with his men on a mountain peak in Darien.

Important Personalities

Homer

Homer is a Greek poet, who is recognized for his works like the ILiad[1] and the Odyssey.[2] He was regarded as someone who ‘taught Greece’. His poems are often regarded as ‘Epic Greek’. He wrote poems mostly in the artificial literary language. He used set phrases known as epithets in his poems.

George Chapman

George Chapman was an English dramatist, poet and translator. Chapman was seen as  the Rival Poet of Shakespeare’s sonnets by William Minto. He was also an anticipator of the metaphysical poets of the 17th century. Chapman is best known for his translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and the Homeric Batrachomyomachia.

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca

Cortez was a Spanish conquistador[3]. He led an expedition which resulted in the fall of the Aztec Empire. Large portions of what is now mainland Mexico was brought under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. He was a part of the generation of Spanish explorers and conquistadors. It was him who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

Theme

Power of Literature

Literature holds the power to teleport a person to a new place. We could see that the speaker was transported to all the places described by Homer by just simply reading Chapman’s translation of it.

“Realms of Gold” refer to the profundity one has garnered through literature and the perks it has to offer which includes the transportative power of literature. He is struck by its power as the poem ends with the speaker who has been struck ‘silent’ by the power of literature and the beautiful places it has taken him to.

Chapman’s translation is to be given credit for making the speaker get awestruck by simply reading what he has written. The poem is written as an extended metaphor where the speaker chooses the path of literature, which paves the way to new places.

Literary Devices

Assonance: This implies the use of vowel sounds in the sentence, for example a/o/e

“Round many western islands have I been”

Allusion: It refers to the historical, political and literary references. For example: ``realms of gold,” refer to Odysseus’ journey in The Iliad and The Odyssey and “peak in Darien” refers to a mountain in Central America.

Meanings

Realms of gold: the discoveries made by the early explorers in search of physical realms (or cities) of gold.

(Here it refers to the richness one gains after reading literature)

Bard: a poet

Fealty: an inferiors’/slaves’ respect and loyalty towards his lord

Demesne: a piece of land attached to a manor that is owned by the owner for his own use.

Ken: one’s area of understanding and knowledge

Serene: peaceful and calm

[1]  Iliad talks about the last stages of the Trojan War and the siege of the city of Troy by the Greeks

[2] Odyssey is about Odysseus, king of Ithaca who wandered around in search of a home after the Trojan War.

[3] Conquistadors were Spanish explorer-soldiers of the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Found info useful?