October 11, 2008

What's updog? (And a poem)

Not much. How about you?

This weekend's poetry feature is the very last word of way too many on the ancient Greek bard Homer. El Cabrero promises the Gentle and Long-Suffering Reader that I will not write about him (or her) for a very long time. Probably.

Strange to say, Homer's epics the Iliad and the Odyssey were only known second hand in Europe from the decline of Rome until the "rediscovery" of Greek language and literature in the Renaissance. His works were indirectly known mostly through Roman writing. It took even longer for his works to be published in the common languages of Europe, but when it happened, the result was striking.

Here is a poem of John Keats (1795-1821) about how he felt when he first read an English translation. To us today, his reference to the conquistador/butcher Cortez is unfortunate but El Cabrero is not a literary Stalinist who censors old works that I don't entirely agree with. The butcher in question is mentioned here just in the context of his "discovery" of the Pacific Ocean, which for the poet is the only discovery he can imagine of a similar magnitude.

On first looking into Chapman’s Homer

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.


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