On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer (1816) By John Keats


Following the conventional form of a sonnet, which is often used to express love, Keats expresses his admiration for Chapman’s version of Homer’s epic “The Odyssey”. Keats uses his poem as an opportunity to express the importance of appreciating poems which touch and deeply move a reader. In the poem, he explains how through the many “goodly states and kingdoms seen” he was able to find something in the literary world which satisfied him and gave him a reason to continue searching for more stories to unravel. More importantly, how he was yet to find more poems which would give him the creative satisfaction he craved. He expresses that of all the different things he has seen, he was never able to “breathe its pure serene” admitting that he was unable to find fulfilment until Chapman’s Homer.  


In poetry, he has found the gold that Cortez, and the other conquistadors he had read about in William Robertson’s History of America, which Cortez had searched for so hastily. He also alludes to the fact that Cortez is “stout,” that is, fearless, and that he is alert, “with eagle eyes.” So much so that his men stand about him in silent awe, looking “at each other with a wild surmise.” Keats secures this idea to help express his own feelings of having made a discovery with the world of poetry. 


Keats expresses his appreciation of Chapman’s version through the line, “felt I like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken;” alluding that he was finally able to find something he was able to hold on to. He was able to find something which brought a new perspective to his life because of the way it was revealed. The word “skies” implying that the version had broadened his perspective and that he was it was like heaven, giving him a realm better than those of gold. Keats is now able to venture and explore with his new discovery and this new world he has discovered for himself, allowing him to treat literature in ways that he hasn’t before.

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One thought on “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer (1816) By John Keats

  1. I’m not sure about the parts where you divert into phrase by phrase “decoding” (“stout,” that is, fearless, etc.) but I like that you see it as a love poem to poetry, in a sense. Keep your own eagle eyes on the “skies” as it were and you’ll be fine —you’ll work your line readings into the big pattern instead of leaving them apart like tiny train cars standing in a line, waiting to be hooked together.

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