General Comments Keats was so moved by the power and aliveness of Chapman's translation of Homer that he wrote this sonnet--after spending all night reading Homer with a friend. The poem expresses the intensity of Keats's experience; it also reveals how passionately he cared about poetry. To communicate how profoundly the revelation of Homer's genius affected him, Keats uses imagery of exploration and discovery. In a sense, the reading experience itself becomes a Homeric voyage, both for the poet and the reader. Written in October 1816, this is the first entirely successful (surviving) poem he wrote. John Middleton Murry called it "one of the finest sonnets in the English language."
Definitions and Allusions
The lines of the
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The high, even holy function that poets fulfill is indicated by their being the servants of a god, Apollo, and having sworn to follow him (with the suggestion of their having consecrated their lives to him). "Fealty," in addition, indicates their dedication to Apollo and, by extension, to their calling, the writing of poetry. With the reference to poets, Keats moves from those who read (or who experience through poets' imaginations) to those who create poetry (or who express their own imaginations). Then the poem narrows to one particular poet who rules the realm of poetry, i.e., whose genius and inspired poetry raise him above even dedicated poets.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
To emphasize the extent of Homer's genius and his literary accomplishments, Keats modifies "expanse" (which means "extensive") with an adjective which also means "extensive," i.e., the adjective "wide." That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
"Deep-browed" refers to Homer's intellect. (We use the adjective "deep" colloquially with a similar meaning today, in such phrases as "a deep thought" or "she's a deep thinker.") Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
By breathing in the "pure serene," he makes it a part of himself; would the same effect be achieved if he walked or ran through Homer's demesne (his poetry)? What is Keats saying about the necessity of poetry (how