Another favourite poem this week. Keats wrote this sonnet, On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer, in 1816. He had been reading George Chapman’s translation of Homer & was amazed at the new worlds revealed to him. I’ve been reading more ancient history lately & becoming interested in everything about the classical world. This morning, I listened to the BBC In Our Time podcast about the Battle of Salamis between the Greeks & the Persians in 480 BC. This led me to look up Artemisia’s advice to Xerxes in Herodotus (I haven’t read the whole book but I bought the beautiful Penguin Deluxe edition of Tom Holland’s new translation). I’ve also been listening to the Ancient World podcast & listening to the audio books of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The ancient world is such a vast subject that I feel I’m just picking up bits & pieces & trying to put it all together. Every now & then, though, I do realise how one story links to another & then I feel as excited as Keats did at discovering something new & wonderful.
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 realise it’s still summer but I’m allowed to dream of autumn. I’ve just finished reading Alexandra Harris’ latest book, Weatherland, a study of English weather in the work of writers & artists. I especially enjoyed the section on Keats & this beautiful poem, one of my favourites, was quoted in full.
It hasn’t been a particularly hot summer in Melbourne so far but today it’s humid & I’m waiting impatiently for the promised cool change, thunderstorm & rain. Until it arrives, dreaming of an English autumn will have to do.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.