Archive for November 19, 2008

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 19, 2008 by telescoper

As a present to those who appear disgruntled by my comments about exoplanets here and there, this is from John Keats:


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.

This famous sonnet was written in October 1816 and is considered the highlight of Keats’s first volume of poetry. It was originally a gift for his friend, Charles Cowden Clarke. The two men had spent an evening reading George Chapman’s superb 17th century translation of the Iliad and Odyssey.

Please note lines 9 and 10. I’m sure they capture the excitement of discovery although Keats probably wasn’t using the correct IAU nomenclature. I’m not sure about the bit about being “silent” either.