Featured Poem: On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer

Last week, Keats’s London home reopened after major refurbishment. Keats House in Hampstead, where he wrote some of his best loved poems, has benefited from £424,000 Lottery grant, which sees the rooms he knew recreated. (View photographs of Keats’ refurbished house here.)

In honour of this reopening, I thought it only fitting to choose a Keats poem for this week’s Featured Poem. I’ve chosen ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’, not because I know it was written in Keats House (I don’t) but because, with things new or refurbished, we are once more able to put in a position of wide-eyed discovery. Be it looking at a poem, a story, a building, a landscape, or a person for the first time (or with fresh eyes), may we be with Keats’ speaker like  ‘some watcher of the skies’ discovering ‘new planets’, injecting vitality, excitement and a ‘wild surmise’ as we live our daily lives.

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 stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats


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Note: I also thought of this poem when reading the end of Book III of Milton’s Paradise Lost with my Get Into Reading group last week.  It is well known that Keats admired Milton and in fact attempted to emulate him in trying to write an ‘epic’ poem, something which he would not be able to achieve. When reading the lines below, I was instantly reminded of Milton’s influence on Keats’ style:

and the air,

No where so clear, sharpened his visual ray

To objects distant far, whereby he soon

Saw within ken a glorious angel stand

(Paradise Lost, Book III, lines 619-622)

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