“On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” by John Keats
It is critical to look at the background of the sonnet to understand the work better. The translation of Homer’s works was done in 1596 by George Chapman who lived between 1554 and 1634. Keats, who read the translated work in 1815, was expressing his feelings about the wealth of literary expertise contained in the piece. The author read this work when he was still a student.
The work should be analyzed by the following sections to comprehend the content of ‘On First Looking In to Chapman’s Homer’ by John Keats.
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; (Keats, 1816)
The author invites the reader into their own experience by using the personal pronoun ‘I.’ Travell’d is a contracted form of traveled. However, the traveling, in this case, is not the physical travel but the experience the author has had with different literary works. Keats is comparing the works that he has read to the ‘realms of gold’ and relates the wide variety of the poems to ‘many goodly states and kingdoms.’
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. (Keats, 1816)
The poet continues to give the reader a feel of the adventures with literary works and in particular the Homers by saying he has explored the western islands. The mention of ‘bard’ and ‘fealty’ is to make the message of the poem sink in
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne; (Keats, 1816)
‘Oft’ which is a shorter version of ‘often’ is aimed at achieving more musicality in the sonnet. ‘One wide expanse’ is used to show just how long the long nature of Homer’s works. ‘That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne’ is a line showing the level of wisdom displayed by Homer and the level of control he had in the literary circles.
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: (Keats, 1816)
At this point, the sonnet is now turning to the main idea of the whole text. The author now says it directly that as much as he has read a lot of literary works, there is none that can be compared to the poetry done by Chapman. He says that exposure to the work is like breathing ‘pure serene’ and the words come out ‘loud and bold.’
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken; (Keats, 1816)
The line ‘Then felt I like some watcher of the skies’ emphasizes the how the experience of reading Homer’s works have been an eye-opener to the author. His vision has been expanded like a ‘watcher of skies.’ The read is a completely new and exciting experience to the author, and that is why he compares is the experience when a ‘new planet swims into an astronomer ken.
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men (Keats, 1816)
The author is still telling more about the new learning experience from Chapman and compares it to ‘stout Cortez when with eagle eyes.’ Again, the contraction ‘star’d’ and the dash is meant to enhance the readability of the sonnet.
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien (Keats, 1816)
These lines signify the end of the work. Here the author is still talking about the explorers and how they are amazed at their discovery of the ocean to the speaker’s respect for the knowledge obtained from Homer’s works.
The poem employs many literary devices to pass the message to the audience. The major stylistic devices used are explained below:
The author uses a lot of mages to make the reader have a clearer picture of the message that is being communicated. For instance, the mention of ‘states and kingdoms’ and ‘new planet’ are meant to give the reader a feel for the discoveries and knowledge gained by the author through the poetic works.
The mention of ‘realms of gold’ is used as a symbol to show the wealth of knowledge gained by the author from literary works.
- Major themes
The poem dwells on several themes. However, the first major one is in awe. The speaker is amazed by the amount of knowledge contained in Homer’s work. There is also a theme of discovery where the author finds out what he did not know previously. He compares this to discovering a new planet.