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Homer>Chapman> Keats>Parekowhai

Behind the scenes

For the record, here is the text of the poem by John Keats (1795-1821), written in 1816, entitled On first looking into Chapman's Homer.

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

The translation of the works of Homer by George Chapman (1559 – 1634) appeared in 1616. Keats's allusion is obvious: he was as startled by reading Chapman as were the Spaniards when they first saw the Pacific Ocean having crossed the isthmus of Panama in 1513.

Frontispiece of The Whole Works of Homer (1616)

Frontispiece of The Whole Works of Homer (1616)

Keats's metaphor is extraodinarily vivid: the silence of the men as they realise that the view before their eyes literally changes the world is powerful stuff. And it is by no means diminished by the fact that strictly speaking it was Vasco Núñez De Balboa (1475 – 1519) who led this expedition. His statue, crucifix in hand, claiming half the planet for God and the King of Spain, is a landmark in Panama City.

Balboa statue, Panama City

Balboa statue, Panama City

Related

Exhibition
Michael Parekowhai: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Michael Parekowhai: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Michael Parekowhai's spectacular Venice Biennale installation returns home for its first post-Biennale showing in New Zealand.

Collection
Chapman's Homer
Michael Parekowhai Chapman's Homer

When 'Chapman’s Homer' was exhibited at the edge of the devastated central city in 2012, it was positioned between ruin and rebuild just outside the cordon in an empty lot on Madras Street. Our bull stood beside his seated brother while a red carved Steinway piano was played upstairs in an adjacent building. Over thirty days, Parekowhai’s work caught the public imagination as a symbol of the resilience of local people. At once strong and refined, a brutal force of nature and a dynamic work of culture, Chapman’s Homer resonated with local audiences. Subsequently, a public fundraising campaign kept the bull in Christchurch.

Chapman’s Homer was first exhibited in Venice, where Parekowhai represented New Zealand at the 2011 Venice Biennale. It travelled to Christchurch after being shown at the Musée de quai Branly in Paris. Over the past year, we’ve shown it at a number of sites around the city as part of the Gallery's Outer Spaces programme, including Worcester Boulevard, Placemakers Riccarton, New Regent Street, and most recently at Christchurch International Airport. And now the bull is back – standing strong in its permanent home at Te Puna o Waiwhetu Christchurch Art Gallery, welcoming visitors to our reopening exhibitions.

(December 2015)