Friday, 13 January 2012

Let's Make Some Yoghurt With John Keats

So far this blog has been a bit like milk*, uncultured. So let's add a bit of culture. I want to write about of my favourite poems. It feels lazy to reproduce all of a poem, but I do not see how else to do it.

* I used to say this joke about Yoghurt but apparently milk is uncultured yoghurt.

My first selection is Keats' "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer". Keats composed the poem after a night reading the translation of Homer's Odyssey by George Chapman. This poem reminds of the excitement of finding a new and great* source of enjoyment. For example, when I read the first Morse book and realised there were twelve more to go, or when I recorded seven series of Spooks and was hooked after two episodes.

* I've often heard people make some variation of the joke that the Great Wall Of China isn't that. Merriam-Webster has eleven definitions for the word great and 'used as a generalized term of approval' is eleventh. I learn this from 'the other Homer'. My variation on the joke, while still lame, at least makes sense: "Maybe afterwards we can go see the world's fastest drying paint".

The poem reads like this:

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.

* I remember this error from secondary school. If the comments on this article are anything to go by, then some people are getting upset about something that should have no effect on the poem. The error did make me look up the Magellan voyage. I had forgotten the name of the first man to travel around the world. It turns out it was Jaun Sebastien Elcano. This made me think if Robbie Cano scored the first home run of a game, would "El Cano, the first man 'round the bases" be too convoluted for a John Sterling home run call

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