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.

Summary

This poem is a sonnet, which expresses Keats’ joy at finding a translation of the epic stories of Homer. It is a traditional petrarchan sonnet, designed to show his appreciation of the world of literature and adventure through literature.

‘Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,’ this is Keats explaining that he has travelled extensively, not physically but through the world of poems and stories that he has read. Keats was an admirer of Homer and his epic poems, but he couldn’t access them as they were not translated into English until Chapman translated them. ‘Yet did I never breathe its pure serene/Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold.’

In the last six lines (sestet) Keats compares himself using two similes to both an astronomer and an explorer, highlighting how important this discovery was to him.

He first compares himself to an astronomer, ‘Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken.’ Here you can imagine how an astronomer would feel at discovering a new planet so it’s clear how much this meant to Keats.

The second simile involves a comparison with a Spanish explorer who became the first European to have reached the Pacific. (Keats says it was Cortez but it was actually Balboa)

‘Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes/He star’s at the Pacific.’

Questions:

  1. What does Keats mean when he says, ‘much have I Travell’d?’ Do you think he physically travelled to these place?
  2. Why was discovering Chapman’s translation so important to Keats?
  3. What two similes does Keats use to convey how he felt? What is he trying to highlight with the two similes?
  4. Which of the two similes do you prefer? Explain why.
  5. Pick two images from the poem that appeal to you and explain why.

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