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John Keats (1795-1821)

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer


              1Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
              2      And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
              3      Round many western islands have I been
              4Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
              5Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
              6      That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
              7      Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
              8Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
              9Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
            10      When a new planet swims into his ken;
            11Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
            12      He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
            13Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
            14      Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Notes

1] Keats knew very little Greek, and read Homer only in translation.

7] pure serene. This phrase is to be found in Coleridge'sHymn before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouni, 72, and also in Cary's translation of Dante's Paradiso, XV, 11.

9-10] Keats perhaps had in mind Sir William Herschel's discovery of Uranus in 1781.

11] Cortez. Actually it was Balboa, not Cortez, who first crossed the isthmus to the Pacific. Keats had read Robertson's History of America and apparently confused two scenes there described: Balboa's discovery of the Pacific and Cortez' first view of Mexico City. The two passages read as follows: "At length the Indians assured them, that from the top of the next mountain they should discover the ocean which was the object of their wishes. When, with infinite toil, they had climbed up the greater part of the steep ascent, Balboa commanded his men to halt, and advanced alone to the summit, that he might be the first who should enjoy a spectacle which he had so long desired. As soon as he beheld the South Sea stretching in endless prospect below him, he fell on his knees, and lifting up his hands to Heaven, returned thanks to God, who had conducted him to a discovery so beneficial to his country, and so honourable to himself. His followers, observing his transports of joy, rushed forward to join in his wonder, exultation, and gratitude" (Bk. III). "In descending from the mountains of Chalco, across which the road lay, the vast plain of Mexico opened gradually to their view. When they first beheld this prospect, one of the most striking and beautiful on the face of the earth; when they observed fertile and cultivated fields, stretching farther than the eye could reach; when they saw a lake resembling the sea in extent, encompassed with large towns, and discovered the capital city rising upon an island in the middle, adorned with its temples and turrets; the scene so far exceeded their imagination, that some believed the fanciful descriptions of romance were realized, and that its enchanted palaces and gilded domes were presented to their sight; others could hardly persuade themselves that this wonderful spectacle was any thing more than a dream. As they advanced, their doubts were removed, but their amazement increased. They were now fully satisfied that the country was rich beyond any conception which they had formed of it" (Bk. V).


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Leigh Hunt, The Examiner (London, Dec. 1, 1816). P LE E ROBA.
First publication date: 1817
RPO poem editor: J. R. MacGillivray
RP edition: 3RP 2.620.
Recent editing: 4:2001/12/28

Composition date: October 1816
Form: Italian Sonnet
Rhyme: abbaabbacdcdcd


Other poems by John Keats