John Keats wrote a poem known as ‘On First looking into Chapman’s Homer’. He was an English romanticpoet of the early 19th century known mostly for the use of sensualimagery within his popular series of odes.
Though initially unpopular his poemsare now some of the most critically analysed of the romantic period. ‘Keats daringand bold style earned him nothing but criticism from two of England’s morerevered publications, Blackwood’s Magazine and the Quarterly Review’ (Keats,2018) this passage shows how popular poetry magazines at the time scorned hisfirst attempt at poetry. Sea Grapes by Derek Walcott is apoet from a completely different time. Walcott was born and raised in the WestIndies under the West Indies Federation, growing up during a time ofde-colonisation, he began to incorporate his feelings and emotions aboutcolonial rule into his literary works, this essay will aim to bridge to gapbetween there poetry and attempt to find common ground among centuries ofdifference.To begin, both employtropes and figures of speech throughout their poems, with a good example beingKeats with ‘When a new planet swims into his ken’ (Keats, 1816: ln. 10) – perhapsreferencing the recent discovery of Uranus in 1781.
This is further reaffirmedwith various critiques on it today ‘Critics usually say that the “new planet”to William Herschel’s observation of Uranus in 1781′ (LOGAN, 2014) It is acommon theme within criticism that this is what he meant. This passage showcaseshis use figurative language, an example being the incorporation of the word’swims’ as it likens the planet to a human being, one who is journeying towardsthe heavens. Language like this intrigues the reader to read on.Walcott providesmany examples himself of how fluent he is with the use of figures of speech,for example ‘the sail which leans on light’ (Walcott, 1816: ln. 1) suggestinghow the journey of literary knowledge, a recurring theme within this poem, isled by the classics written in Greece. With ‘light’ being the classics, anddark being what occurred after that.This is in keeping with the themes Walcott portrays throughouthis own works, as he highlights the colonial brutality towards his culture as anegative thing, suggesting that he values his culture as if it were a form of wealth.
He highlights this within his other poem ‘AFar Cry from Africa’ (Walcott, 1962) in particular ‘The salients ofcolonial policy. What is that to the white child hacked in bed? To savages,expendable as Jews?’ (Walcott, 1962, ln. 8-10) This passage describes the racialunrest between the two cultures.
From this we can see both poets employ imageryeffectively to highlight what they considered the issues of the day. Continuing,both employ the use of imagery throughout their poems. ‘Much have I travell’din the realms of gold, and many goodly states and kingdoms seen’ (Keats, 1816: ln.1-2) This idea of ‘realms of gold’ brings a vivid image to mind of a rich landfull of promise and adventure, to which is he alludes to the discovery of atthe end of the poem with ‘Silent, upon a peak in Darien’ which is a hill inPanama, within the Americas.
Thisopening line is an immediate introduction to Keats’ imagery as a writingtechnique, to help the reader, see what he is describing. ‘Realms of gold’ (Keats,1816: ln. 1) provides a very accurate, grand image to the readers mind; helpingyou visualise a rather large quantity of gold within an area. ‘Much have Itravelled’ (Keats, 1816: ln.
1) suggests a voyage to foreign lands, likeOdysseus to Troy – In this case however he means the Americas. Central Americaat this point was a major source gold for the Spanish, as the Spanish colonieswere plentiful with the resource and as such could be described as “realms of gold.”In another link, the natives in these colonies were treated horrendously undercolonialism, something Walcott experienced first-hand. This highlights thecomparison that one of these poets developed their literary styles during theheight of colonialism in the early 19th century whilst the other developedand saw first-hand its decline around the 20th century.
Keats usesthe Greek classics as examples and comparisons from which he compares his owntime to, which Walcott also does throughout his poem. Later,Keats refers the Aegean Sea surrounding Greece with ‘Round the western islandshave I been, which bards in fealty to Apollo hold’ (Keats, 1816: ln. 3-4)Through the use of the term ‘western islands’ where Homers Odyssey would havetaken place; with the reference to the Greek god Apollo further supporting this.He’s recounting a voyage like the one described in the Odyssey, however hisvoyage is likened to one of literary development and understanding, the phrase ‘whichbards in fealty to Apollo hold’ (Keats, 1816: ln. 4) references this. Bardswere the orators of old within Greek society, with poetry having its rootswithin song, this can be seen as reference to literature.
Walcottwas engrossed in Greek mythology and mentions it constantly within his workwith lines such as, like Keats, he used these Greek classics as a comparison tothe modern times he was living in. One using this to describe the discovery ofthe new world, whilst the other describes living within this New World almost acentury later. Throughoutboth Keats’ and Walcott’s’ poems the parallels of the past and present are constantlychallenged, painting a picture of the evolution of literature from the classicsinto what literature has become today, an example of this is Sea Grapes (Walcott, 1948: ln. 1-6) ‘That sail which leans on light,tired of islands,a schooner beating up the Caribbean for home, could be Odysseus,home-bound on the Aegean;that father and husband’s’ Thismeld of both the past and present in the poem creates a contrast. Schooners are16th century ships that were in use by colonial nations during thecolonial era, he tacitly contrasts this with ‘Odysseus, home bound on theAegean’ in the next stanza. Odysseus being a tale from Greek mythology, is onthe opposite side of history, like how OnFirst looking into Chapman’s Homer is also written at a different point inhistory. (Keats, 1816: ln.
6-8) ‘That deep-browed Homer ruled as hisdemesne;Yet did I never breathe its pure sereneTill I heard Chapman speak out loud andbold:’ Inthis passage Keats speaks of Homer in the same stanza as mentioning Chapman. Heis essentially crediting Chapmans’ translation of the Greek classics, statingthat he had never experienced the pure serenity of the classics until they hadbeen translated by Chapman into English. This shows an almost adulation for theclassics, referring to them as ‘serene.’ This adulation highlights the changein poetry through the centuries, from strict styles into less rigid free flowingverse. Thepoets do differ in styles, Keats’ poem – a Petrarchan sonnet; is rather rigidstructurally.
The lapse in rigidity mirrors changes to the societal classsystems during 17th century that Keats wrote within, one of classdivide – to the more flexible Walcott experienced in the late 20th century- one of social mobility. This has reflected itself onto poetry which you cansee in Walcott’s poem Sea Grapes, as it lacks a strict poetry style. Theuse of tropes and figures of speech are common with both, with Keats’specialising in verbal imagery and the use of Volta’s whilst Walcott excels indramatics and shock value, emanating from his use of a short, brutal structure.All in all, the differences are quite clear here; one poet is a traditionalEnglish romanticist whilst the other is a more modern free flowing verse poet. Laterin his poem Keats initiates a shift in the readers emotions with ‘Then felt I…'(Keats, 1816: ln. 9).
Similar techniques are employed by Walcott to his advantagewith ‘the classics can console, but not enough.’ (Walcott, 1948: ln. 19) bothtechniques being there to illicit an effective emotional response from thereader A similar point is made byWalcott, that discovery within poetry is similar to becoming special andunique, suggesting both poets had romanticised views of what a poet was in theworld. ‘The gift of poetry had made me one of the chosen.
‘ (Walcott, 1998: XL1)is an example of this, along with ‘the classics can console, but not enough'(Walcott, 1948: ln. 19) On top of this it also shows that Walcott romanticisedthe classics of Greece, like Keats. In conclusion these are two very differentpoets. One was present through the height of colonialism whilst the otherwitnessed its decline, through his poem ‘afar cry from Africa’ you can see how Keats neutrality on colonialismcontrasts with Walcott’s distaste for it.
Moving on from this, both make use ofliterary techniques such as verbal imagery, tropes and figures of speech to provokeemotional responses within their readers. Both like to draw on parallels betweenthe past and present to paint images in their readers minds, what does differhowever is how they structure their poems, one being a rigid Englishromanticist; whilst the other an International modernist poet. Bibliography Keats, J.K.(1816).
On First looking into Chapman’sHomer. England: John Keats.Keats, J.(2018). John Keats.
Biography.com. Retrieved 26 January 2018, fromhttps://www.biography.com/people/john-keats-9361568LOGAN, W.(2014). KEATS’S CHAPMAN’S HOMER. The Yale Review, 102(2), 17-18.
W.(1948). Collected Poems. Sea Grapes:Derek Walcott.Walcott, D.W.(1962).
A Far Cry from Africa. ln 8-10:Derek Walcott.Walcott, D.W(1998). Midsummer (p. XL1).
London:Faber and Faber.