Featured Poem: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer by John Keats

Better late than never, this week’s Featured Poem is a revisiting of one from our archive by our current Communications Intern, Vish. It’s very apt, however, considering the poem in question touches upon seeing things in a new light…

National Poetry Day was last week, and people all across the country shared their favourite poems with each other. You may have found that your love for a particular poem was shared by many others, and even come across a new perspective that made you change the way you read a familiar favourite.

This sort of experience is at the heart of reading; each reader makes the poem or story their own, and by sharing our unique perspectives we can learn more about the book, about people, and the world. Keats would have read different translations of Homer before, but after hearing Chapman’s (Keats knew the importance of reading out loud), he felt as if he had suddenly discovered a new planet floating across the sky. Of course Chapman was interpreting one language into another, but the premise is the same: the same words may be translated in many different ways, to mean all sorts of different things. We can see this in our shared reading groups, and it is a wonderful thing when a group member says ‘Oh! I never thought about it that way before!’

Now, let’s look into what Keats had to say ‘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.

John Keats

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