Moving but inaccurate

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I love how the famous poem "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats can be so moving, yet very wrong. Perhaps it was common at the time for someone to mix up Cortez and Vasco de Balboa. As a student in teh 21st century, I didn't even know it was wrong until I looked in the notes.

What struck me was that even though his information was wrong, it was still printed and reprinted. It is still talked about for it's great figures of speech and it didn't lose any of the meaning. Either he was already a really famous poet and nobody questioned him, it was an insignificant fact, or the poem was just so good that it didn't matter. Perhaps it was all three.

"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" (141 line 11-13).

SO

2 Comments

Josie Rush said:

Yeah, I actually thought that was funny. The footnote made me laugh aloud. At first I was sort of hard on Keats in my mind, thinking, "wouldn't someone check that?" but I think this was a bit before the man could've googled a name and made sure his reference was accurate. It's still funny, because, as you point out, it's printed and reprinted, probably with generally the same footnote. I also think it was probably a combination of things that stopped this from being changed by Keats or anyone with the rights to his work at a given time. I'm sure there are quite a few cases where a poet or writer just gets something irredeemably wrong, but it still works.

I can't remember where I saw it now, but Keats was corrected before the poem became well-known but felt it was unnecessary to change it to Balboa as it didn't change the imaginative purposes of the piece. So yes, I think it was a combination of the reasons you listed.

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