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A  PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER  1352March 3, 1999
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Excerpt from The Right Of  serializing the 1965 lecture by Eli Siegel "Poetry and Science Have the Unknown."

about John Keats:

Discovery and Keats 
By Eli Siegel

The feeling of discovery has been embodied in one of the most popular sonnets of the English language, one of the greatest sonnets too. It is the sonnet of Keats "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," which gets in astronomy, gets in discovery. Keats may have been thinking of Herschel or somebody like him—the first person who sees a planet. 

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 stared at the Pacific—and all his men 
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise— 
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

It may be said that this sonnet holds its place among sonnets somewhat as Newton's Principia holds its place among works of physics. Be that as it may, there are sciences present in it, at least geography and astronomy. There is the feeling of discovery—the feeling that we hadn't seen this before, and that it's important—which people should treasure, and very often don't treasure. 

     So, looking at this. "The realms of gold" is a phrase that has been used for many an anthology. It means the world of poetry and of books, and was followed through in Emily Dickinson's statement that a book is a frigate that takes you away somewhere. 

     Then Keats combines geography—through islands—with something which is not tangible. The feeling of discovery is here: somebody discovered Australia; somebody discovered Madagascar; somebody discovered Cuba. Smaller islands have been discovered; those are some of the largest. "Round many western islands have I been/Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold." So islands are a junction of the ideal and the physical. 

     "Oft of one wide expanse had I been told/That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne": a book is compared to a large territory, a wide expanse. Chapman's Homer1 others have looked on differently from Keats. Chapman's Homer was part of the romantic re-seeing of the Elizabethans. It was being talked about; and it came to be the fashion, with everyone who was bright, to disparage the Homer of Mr. Pope and the Homer of Mr. Cowper, let alone lesser Homers. "Yet did I never breathe its pure serene/Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold." Keats had not seen the quality of Homer until he met Chapman. 

A New Planet

Then discovery is presented: "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken." That is being very beautifully fair to astronomy. 

     "Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes/He stared at the Pacific—and all his men..." You can discover a planet and you can discover an ocean. To be sure, there were people who had seen the Pacific, but they weren't associated with Western man. The Chinese had seen the Pacific, and the Japanese. And the people who are now in dear, disturbed Vietnam, they had seen the Pacific through the Indian Ocean. Indians had seen it from California and also from Chile. But the Pacific had not been seen by men living in Europe. 

Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes 
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men 
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.    

The equanimity and the respect that are in discovery are in these last lines. They are the greatest lines in the poem, and they are great enough to carry the whole poem. 

Cause & Effect in a Sonnet 

The principle in science of cause and effect is here. That very often is present in a sonnet: the octet, the first eight lines, presents a situation; and the sestet, the last six lines, presents an effect. When it is done well, we have the drama implicit in cause and effect: because this is so, this was so; or, because this was so, this was so too. "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken...." What a relation of cause and effect, and what an honoring of discovery! 

     My purpose, then, in this talk is to present science as discovery, with the emotion that can be with discovery. And I am also saying that poetry is discovery. 

     You can discover the unfamiliar and the familiar. Here we come to the idea of Coleridge and Wordsworth.2  Science discovers the unfamiliar, most often; that is, the principle of television was once unfamiliar and now at least the acting of television is familiar. Poetry discovers the familiar; it can also discover the unfamiliar. 

     So the strange and the ordinary are represented by science and poetry. Discovery is in both, and is an honoring of the known and unknown. And so, as I'll try to show later, the more poetry and science are looked at, the more they will be seen as having the same job. 


1 George Chapman translated the Iliad and Odyssey between 1598 and 1616. 
2 In their plan for the Lyrical Ballads. 


  To return to discussion of John Keats poetry in TRO 1382

Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism: more information

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Preface to Self and World by Eli Siegel
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Essays by Eli Siegel in Online Library
Reviews of Eli Siegel's poetry and other works
Reviews by Eli Siegel in Scribner's
Eli Siegel in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Articles about Aesthetic Realism and Music: BarbaraAllen.org, EdGreenMusic.org
See Eli Siegel Day in Baltimore with Governor's and Mayor's Proclamations
"The Success of the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel As Teaching Method"
Tribute to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism in US Congressional Record
Aesthetic Realism in the Los Angeles Times
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This issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known is copyright 1999 by the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.