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 intrigued by English poetsof the time and was especially influenced by modernist poets such as T.
S. Eliotand Ezra Pound. Walcott was born and raised in the West Indies under the West IndiesFederation, growing up during a time of de-colonisation he began to incorporatehis feelings and emotions about colonial rule into his literary works, thisessay will aim to bridge to gap between there poetry and attempt to find commonground among centuries of difference.To begin, both employedtropes and figures of speech throughout their poems, with a good example beingKeats with ‘When a new planet swims into his ken’ (Keats, 1816) – perhaps referencingthe recent discovery of Uranus in 1781.
‘Critics usually say that the “newplanet” to William Herschel’s observation of Uranus in 1781’ (LOGAN, 2014) Itis a common theme within criticism that this is what he meant. This passage showcaseshis use figurative language. The incorporation of the word ‘swims’ likens theplanet to a human being, one who is journeying towards the heavens.
Languagelike this intrigues the reader to read on.Walcott providesmany examples in how fluent he is with the use of figures of speech, forexample ‘the sail which leans on light’ (Walcott, 1816, p. 1) suggesting howthe journey of literary knowledge, a recurring theme within this poem, is ledby the classics written in Greece. With ‘light’ being the classics suggestingthat dark was 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) – ‘The salients of colonial policy. Whatis that to the white child hacked in bed? To savages, expendable as Jews?’ (Walcott,1962, p. 8-10) This passage describes the racial unrest between the two cultures.
From this we can see both poets employ imagery effectively to highlight whatthey valued. 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,p.
1) The idea of ‘realms of gold’ brings a vivid image of a rich land full ofpromise, much likes the Americas. Within this opening line immediately you areintroduced to Keats’ imagery as a writing technique, to help the reader, seewhat he is describing. ‘Realms of gold’ (Keats, 1816) provides a very accurate,grand image to the readers mind; helping you visualise a rather large quantityof gold within an area. ‘Much have I travelled’ (Keats, 1816) suggests a voyageto foreign lands, like Odysseus to Troy – In this case however he means the Americas.Central America at this point was a major source gold for the Spanish, as theSpanish colonies were plentiful with the resource and as such could bedescribed as “realms of gold.
” In another link, the natives in these colonieswere treated horrendously under colonialism, something Walcott experiencedfirst-hand. This highlights the comparison that one of these poets developedtheir literary styles during the height of colonialism in the early 19thcentury whilst the other developed and saw first-hand its decline around the 20thcentury. Keats uses the Greek classics as examples and comparisons from whichhe compares his own time to, which Walcott also does throughout his poem. Walcottwas engrossed in Greek mythology and mentions it constantly within his work, likeKeates, he used these Greek classics as a comparison to the modern times he wasliving in. One describing the discovery of the new world whilst the other describesliving within this New World almost a century later.
More specifically, his poemSea Grapes develops the idea that a conflict between obsession andresponsibility must be resolved. Itcan be surmised that Keats is referring to the Aegean Sea surrounding Greece withthe quote ‘Round the western islands have I been, which bards in fealty toApollo hold’ (Keats, 1816, p. 3-4) Through the use of the term ‘westernislands’ where Homers Odyssey would have taken place; the reference to theGreek god Apollo supports this. He’s recounting a voyage like the one describedin the Odyssey, however his voyage is one likened to one of literarydevelopment and understanding. Throughouthis poem the parallels of the past and present paint a picture of the evolutionof literature from the classics into what it is today. Both being at oppositesides of history, one in antiquity and the other in modernity. With ‘Then feltI…’ (Keats, 1816) Keats initiates a shift in the readers emotions.
Similar techniquesare employed by Walcott to his advantage with ‘the classics can console, but notenough.’ (Walcott, 1948) both techniques being there to illicit an effectiveemotional response from the reader. Walcottembarked on a similar journey throughout his readings of classical Greekliterature. ‘A schooner beating up the Caribbean’ (Walcott, 1948, p. 3) describesa journey to islands, like the one made by Odysseus. Its verbal imagery is verysimilar to the imagery used by Keats. Using emotive words and phrases like’fealty,’ ‘beating,’ and ‘tired’ all these words are actions performed or feltby humans, bringing the reader closer to the images being described within thepoems. Keats later suggests that priorto reading Chapmans Homer, he could never appreciate the poem properly.
‘Yetnever did I breathe its pure serene, till I heard Chapman speak out loud andbold’ (Keats 1816) This invokes the passing on of knowledge like a teacher to astudent, or classic Greeks to modern poets. The use of the word ‘serene’ raisesthe feeling of a calming nature that develops from reading a literary classic suchas the Odyssey. Walcott himself makes a similarpoint that discovery within poetry is similar to becoming special and unique,suggesting both poets had romanticised views of what a poet was in the world.
‘Thegift of poetry has made me one of the chosen.’ (Walcott 1948) is an example ofthis, along with ‘the classics can console, but not enough’ (Walcott, 1948) Thishowever shows that he also romanticised the classics of Greece, like Keats. Furtheron in the poem Sea Grapes the reader is stirred by Walcott to receive anintense and stressful feeling, created by the dilemma ‘brings nobody peace'(Walcott, 1948) This makes the reader wonder why nobody is brought peace, the dilemmais then explained with ‘the ancient war between obsession and responsibility’ (Walcott1948) which can only be solved once this conflict is put to rest. The conflictis similar to the one Keats highlights in his poem, it is caused by one’s responsibilities,like Odysseus staying loyal to his wife, but only doing so by fighting thetemptation of obsession, his obsession with war and temptation.
The use of thedilemma keeps the reader interested, however it is not resolved by the end ofthe poem. This contrasts with Keats’ poem as that poems dilemma is not explicitlystated, it is subliminally hidden behind the text. At the end of Keats ‘On First looking into Chapman’s Homer’ themoment Cortez first see’s the Americas is described ‘Silent, upon a peak in Darien,Look’d at each other with a wild surmise’ (Keats, 1816) – The ending suggests thattheir obsession for adventure and wealth had led them here, where they wouldfind their bounty. In conclusion these are two very differentpoets.
One was present through the height of colonialism whilst the otherwitnessed its decline. Walcott’s perspective of colonialism being a whollynegative thing contrasts with Keats’ neutral opinion on the matter, as he nevermentions his opinion on it throughout the poem. Keats employs the Petrarchan sonnet,with a formal rhyming pattern of a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a-c-d-c-d-c-d, whilst Walcott’sis a more modern approach on poetry, lacking a strict structure or pattern. Hedoes however stick to lines of three to a stanza, employing traditional metres throughouthis work. The use tropes and figures of speech are common with both, and bothof them are very effective at using them, with Keats’ specialising in verbalimagery and the use of Volta’s whilst Walcott excels in dramatics and shockvalue, emanating from his use of a short, brutal structure.
All in all, thedifferences are quite clear here; one poet is a traditional English romanticistwhilst the other is a more modern free flowing verse poet. Bibliography Keats, J.K. (1816). On First looking into Chapman’s Homer.
England: John Keats.Walcott, D.W. (1948). Collected Poems. : Derek Walcott.Walcott, D.
W. (1962). A Far Cry from Africa. : DerekWalcott.
Keats, J. (2018). John Keats. Biography.com.
Retrieved 26January 2018, from https://www.biography.com/people/john-keats-9361568LOGAN, W. (2014). KEATS’S CHAPMAN’S HOMER. The Yale Review,102(2), 17-18.