Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The tersest of footnotes

In last week's haiku I chose as my high promontory "a peak in Darien" - a conscious reference to a line at the climax of Keats's famous poem 'On first looking into Chapman's 'Homer'...':

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.

Great lines. I rather think "eagle eyes" might have been an original formulation back then; alas, so soon reduced to cliché - by the time of my childhood it had become a trademarked gimmick of the 'Action Man' military action figures (there was a little lever in the the back of their necks that made their eyes swivel from side to side - even as an 8-year-old, I was hugely unimpressed).

The one problem with this is that Cortez was not the first conquistador to catch sight of the new ocean.

As Francis Turner Palgrave noted with brutal succintness in a footnote to the poem in his classic Victorian anthology The Golden Treasury of English Verse:

"History would require Balboa."

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