John Keats’ poem, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” is written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, consisting of an octave rhymed ABBAABBA and a sestet rhymed CDCDCD. As is traditional in the form, there is a “turn” or shift of focus between the two parts. The poem functions as an extended simile with the first part being the tenor and the second the vehicle.
The octave describes Keats’ experience reading (travelling in the “realms of gold”), and states that Keats never fully experienced Homer until he encountered the epics in Chapman’s translation.
The sestet compares the experience of Keats’ imaginary travels to the experience of either an astronomer discovering a new planet or Cortez first seeing the Pacific, thereby comparing the experience of mental travel and personal discoveries of poetry to the wonder real explorers or scientists feel when making their discoveries.
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.