John Pound. Walcott was born and raised in the

John Keats wrote a poem known as ‘On First looking into Chapman’s Homer’. He was an English romantic
poet of the early 19th century known mostly for the use of sensual
imagery within his popular series of odes. Though initially unpopular his poems
are now some of the most critically analysed of the romantic period. ‘Keats daring
and bold style earned him nothing but criticism from two of England’s more
revered publications, Blackwood’s Magazine and the Quarterly Review’ (Keats,
2018) this passage shows how popular poetry magazines at the time scorned his
first attempt at poetry.


Sea Grapes by Derek Walcott is a
poet from a completely different time. Walcott was intrigued by contemporary
English poets and was strongly influenced by modernist poets such as T.S. Eliot
and Ezra Pound. Walcott was born and raised in the West Indies under the West Indies
Federation, growing up during a time of de-colonisation he began to incorporate
his feelings and emotions about colonial rule into his literary works, this
essay will aim to bridge to gap between there poetry and attempt to find common
ground among centuries of difference.

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To begin, both employed
tropes and figures of speech throughout their poems, with a good example being
Keats with ‘When a new planet swims into his ken’ (Keats, 1816) – perhaps referencing
the recent discovery of Uranus in 1781, there is evidence for this. ‘Critics
usually say that the “new planet” to William Herschel’s observation of Uranus
in 1781’ (LOGAN, 2014) It is a common theme within criticism that this is what
he meant. This passage showcases his use figurative language. The incorporation
of the word ‘swims’ likens the planet to a human being, one who is journeying
towards the heavens. Language like this intrigues the reader to read on.

Similarly, Walcott
provides many examples in how fluent he is with the use of figures of speech,
for example ‘the sail which leans on light’ (Walcott, 1816) suggesting how the
journey of literary knowledge, a recurring theme within this poem, is led by
the classics written in Greece. With ‘light’ being the classics suggesting that
dark was what occurred after that.

both make good use of imagery. One of Keats’ most famous poems implies worldly
riches such as gold and silver but shocks when switching the implication that
the real wealth is within the literary and cultural realms ‘Much have I
travell’d in the realms of gold, and many goodly states and kingdoms seen’ (Keats,
1816) arguing the point that literature and culture are also a form of wealth. Which
is in keeping with the themes Derek Walcott portrays throughout his own works
as he highlights the whitewashing of his culture as being a horrible thing,
suggesting that he values his culture as if it were wealth. He highlights this
within his other poem ‘A Far Cry
from Africa’ (Walcott, 1962) – a painful and difficult depiction of ethnic
conflict and cleansing between the white European settlers and the black native
Mau Mau in Africa.


Already within this opening line
you can begin to see Keats’ strong use of imagery as a writing technique to
help the reader visualise what he is describing, ‘Realms of gold’ (Keats, 1816)
provides a very accurate, grand image to the readers mind; helping you
visualise a rather large quantity of gold within an area. ‘Much have I
travelled’ (Keats, 1816) suggests a voyage to foreign lands, similar to
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 the Spanish colonies
were plentiful with the resource and as such could be described as “realms of gold.”
The natives in these colonies were treated horrendously under colonialism,
something Walcott experienced first-hand. This highlights the comparison that
one of these poets developed their literary styles during the height of
colonialism in the early 19th century whilst the other developed and
saw first-hand its decline around the 20th centuries mid-end. Keats’
uses the Greek classics as examples and comparisons from which he compares his
own time to, which Walcott also does throughout his poem.


Walcott was engrossed in Greek
mythology, and mentions it constantly within his work, like Keates, he used these
Greek classics as a comparison to the modern times he was living in. One
describing the discovery of the new world whilst the other describes living
within this New World almost a century later. More specifically, his poem Sea
Grapes develops the idea that the conflict between obsession and responsibility
must be solved. A religious writer, Derek makes use of the word obsession well,
obsession is quite an extreme word, suggesting an unhealthy desire for
something, akin to a sin. Greed, another sin; is a form of obsession, so the
Europeans obsession for monetary wealth can be seen outweighing their moral
responsibility to their common man.


It can be surmised that Keats’ is
referring to the Aegean Sea surrounding Greece with the quote ‘Round the
western islands have I been, which bards in fealty to Apollo hold’ Through the
use of the term ‘western islands’ where Homers Odyssey would have taken place; the
reference to the Greek god Apollo supports this. He’s recounting a voyage like
the one described in the Odyssey, however his voyage is one of literary
development and understanding. Similar to the one embarked upon by Walcott
throughout his readings of classical Greek literature. ‘A schooner beating up
the Caribbean’ (Walcott, 1948) describes a journey to islands, like the one
made by Odysseus. Its verbal imagery is very similar to the imagery used by
Keats. Using emotive words and phrases like ‘fealty,’ ‘beating,’ and ‘tired’ all
these words are actions performed or felt by humans, bringing the reader closer
to the images being described within the poems.


The island-dotted Aegean lies at
the eastern end of the Mediterranean, baring this in mind it its intriguing how
Keats’ use of the term ‘West islands’ tacitly contrasts them to the East
indies, which was what inspired would be adventurers such as Cortes and Balboa
to discover the new world and the ‘realms of the gold.’ Throughout the poem
Keats constantly jumps back and forth between this parallel of the new and old
worlds, both being at complete opposite sides of history. The new world being
recently discovered, whilst the Greek literary works being from the very start
of recorded history. This sense of fresh discovery brings the reader to the
Volta, ‘Then felt I…’ (Keats, 1816) initiating a strong emotional change in the
reader. Walcott uses similar techniques to his advantage with examples like
‘The classics can console. But not enough.’ (Walcott, 1948) Both are equally
effective in eliciting an emotional response from the reader.


Keats’ later suggests that prior
to reading Chapman’s translated works of Homer, he couldn’t appreciate the poem
for the literary marvel it was. “Yet never did I breathe its pure serene’ ‘Till
I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold’ (Keats 1816) An interesting figure of
speech, evoking the passing on of knowledge like the orators of old. The use of
the word ‘serene’ suggests a calming and almost ethereal nature brought on by
reading a literary classic such as the Odyssey. Walcott himself makes a similar
point that discovering poetry is like becoming special and unique, showing the
romanticised views of the poet, both these poets held. ‘Forty years gone, in my
island childhood, I felt that’ ‘the gift of poetry had made me one of the
chosen’ (Walcott, 1948) demonstrates this, along with ‘The classics can
console. But not enough.’ (Walcott 1948) however, this goes one step further as
it shows the same classical appreciation that Keats’ held.


Later in the poem Sea Grapes, by
claiming that this conflict ‘brings nobody peace’ (Walcott, 1948) The reader is
stirred by Walcott to receive an almost tense and strained feeling, creating a
dilemma; it then continues by letting the readers become aware that the dilemma
which is ‘the ancient war between obsession and responsibility,’ can only be
solved once this innate conflict at the heart of humankind is put to rest. Both
poets create dilemmas within the poetry to draw the reader in. Lest they be
stuck in perpetual conflict. This contrasts well with Keats’ as a theme within
Chapmans Homer, as the poem seems restless. Never is there a satisfying ending,
the closing line ‘Silent, upon a peak in Darien’ (Keats 1816) describes the
moment Cortez may have first seen the America’s on the hill of Darien. What
happened next is hinted at within the line ‘Look’d at each other with a wild
surmise’ (Keats 1816)  – suggesting an
animalistic ‘wild’ side had come over them, that their obsession with greed had
outweighed their responsibility.


Chapmans Homer is a Petrarchan
sonnet, split between an octave and a sestet, with a rhyme scheme of
a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a-c-d-c-d-c-d. After the main idea has been introduced the image
is played upon in the octave, after this the poem changes emotional direction
with a Volta. The Volta, used typically within Petrarchan sonnets, is put very
effectively to use by Keats’ as he refines his previous idea. The octave then offers
the poet as a literary explorer, whilst the Volta used presents the discovery
of Chapman’s Homer as a separate entity, the subject of which is further
expanded upon through the poet’s subtle use of imagery and comparisons which overall
convey his sense of awe at the discovery.


Walcott’s Sea Grapes doesn’t seem
to follow any of the traditional rhyming patterns but is broken up into lines
of 3 to a stanza. He employs traditional metres superbly. Freedom in this poem
comes from the constantly shifting metrical base, which does not abide to any
typical European style of poetry. Some lines are iambic whilst other trochaic,
further increasing that sense of freedom. All in all, the differences are quite
clear here; one poet is a traditional English romanticist whilst the other is a
more modern free flowing modern verse.


In conclusion the these are two
very different poets who were raised from alien backgrounds on separate sides
of the world. One was present through the height of colonialism whilst the
other was there during its decline, through this you can see from Walcott’s
perspective that colonialism is a negative thing whilst in Keats’ work he is
neutral, neither condemning or condoning it, showing the change in opinion over
time with the abolishment of slavery. Walcott’s poem seems to be the rawer of
the two due to the unique form and lack of traditional rhyming style, whilst
Keats is writing as a fairly strict Petrarchan sonnet, minoring the one
syllable he misses out in line 12 of Chapman’s Homer. Both use tropes and figures
of speech very effectively, with Keats’ specialising in verbal imagery and the
use of Volta’s whilst Walcott excels in dramatics and shock value, emanating
from his use of a short, brutal structure, showcasing the differences in their