Written in October 1816, John Keats infamous poem is one of romance in terms of how it breaks down the simple act of reading. On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer was the climax in John Keats’ first collection of poems. The rhythms of the Chapman sonnet convey a wide-sweeping sense of movement – of planets circling the heavens, and ships circumnavigating the earth (Rumens).
A gift for a beloved friend, Charles Cowden Clarke, the poem is a fantastically constant symbol of study as the sonnet defines an event in the creative journey, vital in significance to the progress of reading. The poem came about on an evening when Charles Cowden Clarke and John Keats delved into reading the Iliad and the Odyssey. John Keats made a transformation in English poetry and wrote some of its most beautiful works, in a lifetime of only twenty-five years (Gallagher).
The poem begins:
Much have I traveled in the realms of gold
“Realms of gold" can have various meanings. Monarchies, dominions, lands, empires and territories, come to mind. Therefore, diverse places come to mind. “Realms of gold” also represents the domain of writing. The value of this world of literature and imagination is weighted by calling it ‘gold’. Keats is giving this world very high value, in lieu of calling it ‘realms of stone’. This will be the first representation of a repetitive sound Keats uses to stress the connections between these worlds.
Now look at the lines 2-4:
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
As a reader, you have been to lands you have never seen, you have seen far off kingdoms and riches, and as a poet Apollo or God has called them to their duty of being a poet. The mention of poets, transitions the metaphor from readers to writers. The world suggests that we have morphed from those that simply thrive off of the creative imagination and world of a writer, to being one himself.
The following line, 5:
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
John Keats accentuates the magnitude of Homer's intellect in this line. The line also highlights Homer’s writing in ‘wide expanse’ to which Keats had been informed of Homer’s talent for writing.
The next line, 6:
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Keats is telling readers here that Homer’s mind and source of thought rules; his mind being the ‘deep-brow’. ‘Deep in thought’ is what was constant in the writing of Homer—especially in the Iliad and the Odyssey.
In the line 7:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
We see the importance of Homer to Keats. Breathe is essential in living. Therefore, to breathe ‘pure serene’ would be to take in the essence of the life of Homer’s work. The need of Homer to Keats is just as important to breathing.
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold
This line indicates Keats had no clue what Homer was speaking about or what his poetry truly meant until he heard his beloved friend read the words ‘bold’ and ‘loud’.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
The word ‘then’ carries the poem to a new sentiment, but also links the octet (first 8 lines) to the sestet (lines 9-14). Keats way of transition is simple, charming and even. This particular translation by Chapman revealed a new ‘realm’, one in which his view changes to the miraculous.
Here, in line 10:
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Here, Keats is describing the sense of wonder that would wash over you if you looked up into the sky and saw an actual planet. Almost like the discovery of a new world or the fact that aliens do in fact exist; the term ‘swims’ animates the planet, as if it were swimming in the Pacific.
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
Now that Keats has given the reader an animated line, he must then couple the line with the emphasis on Cortez, saying he has ‘eagle eyes’ or extraordinary eye sight for a human.
He stared at the Pacific--and all his men
Cortez then ‘stares’ at the Pacific, possibly longing, in shock at what was in front of him. Then back at his men for hope, for confirmation that this indeed was the Pacific.
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
Here Cortez and his men exchange a glorious wonder. Seeing the Pacific is "wild" to them, and the ‘surmise’ is the guessing as to what this wonder isis it really the Pacific? This line suggests a wonder of great proportion has just bestowed upon them.
Finishing with line 14:
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
When on envisions men standing ‘silent’ it is a stance of shock and awe at what is before them.
Keats's semantic universally attests to the essential that the Iliad and the Odyssey be read with a ‘loud’ and ‘bold’ voice, that the ‘boldness’ carried the word ‘silent’ so very far for Keats. Keats style is romantic, omnipresent and dogmatic at times. His poem, On First Looking into Chapman's Homer is a reflection of the first time he learned to really read poetry. He expressed his true understanding of what Homer meant in his literary language. Keats's metaphor would be less effective if he did not invoke two actual discoveries in the poem - one astronomical, the other terrestrial (Rumens). This is a direct sentiment of how powerful poetry can be.
Gallahger, Paul. “John Keats Vs.The Enlightenment”. Fidelio Magazine. Vol 5, No 3, Fall
LaRouche, Jr. Lyndon H. The "Metaphor" series: "On the Subject of Metaphor" Fidelio. Vol. I, No. 3, Fall 1992, pp. 17-50. Print.
Poets.org. John Keats. www.poets.org 7 April 2013.
Rumens, Carol. “The Romantic poets: On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer by John
Keats”. The Guardian. 23 Jan. 2010. Print.