The Primacy of Vision in Virgil's Aeneid

By Riggs Alden Smith | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 1
Prophaenomena ad Vergilium

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.

JOHN KEATS1

"Eagle eyes" is an expression often applied to people of uncommon perception and piercing vision, those able to see things hard to perceive. Throughout "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," Keats' manipulation of vision does more than create lingering images; it offers a kind of theoretical point of access for the poem. The sightless Homer now becomes tactile: his realm visible, its aura breathable, and his voice, through Chapman, finally audible. Chapman's translation of Homer gives the reader a new vision of the poet, allowing Keats to extol and describe through a strikingly visual simile. Keats' poem celebrates vision, emphasizing both acquisition of knowledge

-1-

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