Discovering Literature, Columbus-Style

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"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortex 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." (Keats, 9-14)

I really enjoyed these lines.  I think everyone who loves literature, or really any kind of art, can relate to what the speaker is experiencing here.  Whenever I read a book and love it, I have this feeling that I've discovered the text.  It really makes no sense, obviously I'm not the first person to read it, but I imagine it is a feeling sort of akin to what Keats describes; discovering a new planet or an ocean (I've never done that either, but let's go with it).  There's the "this-book-was-here-the-whole-time-and-I've-never-read-it-until-now" feeling of awe going through my mind, followed by the urge to share the book with other people.  I think these are two chains of feeling that "some watcher of the skies" or "stout Cortex" may have felt when making their own discoveries. 

It's funny how the speaker says he'd heard all about how great Homer was before, but never fully appreciated him until he read them in Chapman's translation.  It reminded me of hearing about how great certain classical works are before I actually read them.  Those praises make the feeling of discovery even more insensible, since clearly others have stumbled upon the book before, but they also make the feeling more impervious: No matter how many people tell you a book is great, if you read it for yourself and end up loving it, you will still have that feeling of excitement. 



Aja Hannah said:

Yea! It's discovery. Like making it to the top of a mountain that not many climb. This poem reminds me of how I feel when I open a new book for fun. I could be anywhere, do anything I want.

Kayla Lesko said:

I couldn't agree with you more. That's why I wish more people were into reading so that they could experience the same thing.

I always think of that discovery as "the flash." It's from L. M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon, which I have yet to actually finish. (I started about 7 years ago, and it was really good, but I never went back to it. I only read maybe 6 chapters, but this always stuck with me).

"And then, for one glorious, supreme moment, came 'the flash.' ... Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn't exactly describe it. It couldn't be described--not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it... This moment came rarely--went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it--never summon it--never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing... And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty."

So there's your Montgomery quote for this blog :)

I think people can experience "the flash" in just about anything. For Emily, it was by looking at the treetops silhouetted against the sky and everything just made sense. As I blogged, I often get this feeling in math.

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