On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

by John Keats
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"Silent, Upon A Peak In Darien"

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Last Updated on June 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 203

Context: In this Italian sonnet, Keats describes the rapture with which he read George Chapman's translation of Homer's poetry. Through books, Keats had explored "the realms of gold" of the ancient pagan civilizations. He had been told of the glories of "deep-browed" Homer's poetry, but he had never really felt the serene power of Homer until he read the translation by Chapman, an Elizabethan translator and dramatist. Keats and Charles Cowden Clarke stayed up an entire night reading Chapman's "loud and bold" translation. This aesthetic experience inspired Keats to feel the thrill of an explorer discovering a new planet or an unknown ocean. The poet compares himself to Cortez' first sighting of the Pacific from Darien (in the Isthmus of Panama). Perhaps the only real flaw in the poem is a historical error: the Pacific Ocean was discovered not by Cortez but by Balboa. This mistake does not spoil the poem's typically romantic mood of wonder and discovery:

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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 stared at the Pacific–and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise–
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

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