- He Star’d Across the Atlantic: The Cortázar-Keats Connection
With a few notable exceptions, including denise gigante’s seminal study on The Keats Brothers (2011), it has proven challenging to undertake transatlantic criticism within Keats studies. For a poet who barely left the continent, most attempts to bring Keats into recent discussions of transatlantic Romanticisms rely on reception studies and poetic afterlives, typically through Anglophone works from the United States or Canada.1 But Keats’s afterlives elsewhere in the Americas, especially in a Latin American context, have been far more difficult to pinpoint. His strongest thematic connection to the New World, the sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” has long been mired in debate, the reference to South America in the final sestet fraught with confusion or error:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skiesWhen a new planet swims into his ken;Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyesHe star’d at the Pacific—and all his menLook’d at each other with a wild surmise—Silent, upon a peak in Darien.2
M. H. Abrams appended his definitive footnote in the Norton Anthology to indicate that Keats’s naming of “stout Cortez” in Darien must have been a mistake, while Tennyson had pointed out even earlier that this should have read “Balboa” instead.3 In 1965, Carl Woodring drew attention to the [End Page 351] “fusion of memories” in which Keats scrambled his readings of early youth, mixing up Cortez, Pizarro, and perhaps even Alonzo de Molina.4 For Susan Wolfson, Keats’s analogy holds soundly, with no correction necessary: “There is no reason to agree with Tennyson’s often repeated comment (1861) that K confused Cortez with Balboa (the first European to see the Pacific). As K is first looking into Chapman’s Homer (not unknown to others), so Cortez is first looking at an ocean (of which he had been told).”5 The history of these correctives is thoroughly fleshed out in Charles J. Rzepka’s 2012 “‘Cortez—or Balboa, or Somebody Like That’: Form, Fact, and Forgetting in Keats’s ‘Chapman’s Homer’ Sonnet.”6
Historical faux pas aside, the presence of Latin America has remained a powerful figuration in Romantic poetry. Keats gestures toward “one wide expanse” and “a new planet,” positioning the southern continent as a symbolic vagary at best.7 It appears that critics too have adopted this approach of easy equivalence amongst the New World’s conquistadors and kings, often for dramatic effect. As Woodring wrote, “Keats’s Homer is a king among poets. He is a Montezuma unconquered and unreached.”8 Thus, Keats’s references to a Hispanophone New World have always functioned as a general metaphor for discovery, revelation, and mastery, representing a southern-hemispheric ‘other.’
Thanks to Romantic scholars working on the Black Atlantic and South Atlantic—including Paul Gilroy, Paul Youngquist, Frances Botkin, and Joselyn M. Almeida—the New World no longer has to remain mired in a language of metonymies, where Homer, Ozymandias, Cortez, Balboa, and Pizarro all converge to signal poetic mystery and greatness.9 [End Page 352]
Readers can now look more pointedly across the Atlantic toward new critical works in various languages, to sharpen the ken of our Cortezian eagle eyes and enrich our understanding of Keats’s global influence. In this essay, I introduce a recently rediscovered text of interest to Romanticists and Keatsians that crosses continents, languages, and time periods: Julio Cortázar’s Imagen de John Keats (1952). Recovering a hitherto neglected work of Keats criticism by a major Argentinian author, I ask: what might transatlantic connections look like in Keats studies today, considering new Latin American afterlives of the poet, and in light of work that has extended the Atlantic littoral beyond the Anglophone sphere? As the title of this essay suggests, rather than gazing at the Pacific with Keats’s ambiguous explorer, we might “stare” across the Atlantic for evidence of the global impact of his poetry, to espy a reciprocal transatlantic Romanticism within South America’s Southern Cone. The question at hand is not whether Keats cared for South America (or correctly...