In 1995, as a college freshman, I encountered (along with Keats) the Internet for the first time. I literally turned to the person sitting next to me in the computer lab and asked, “what do I do?”
“Click on the underlined words,” he said.
So now, I give you “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” according to…the Internet (which is almost certainly the way I would have encountered it had I been a freshman in 2014 instead of 1995).
I might have searched for help in a chat with an artificial intelligence:
Me…what does realms of gold mean.
Cleverbot…Go look it up. And maybe you can tell me.
Me…then felt I like some watcher of the skies.
Cleverbot…I like it too but it doesn’t make sense.
Me…do you like Keats
Cleverbot…Justin likes cats?
I certainly would have imported my own cultural references:
Then felt I like some watcher of these guys…
And I notice that all the things I’ve chosen so far are strange, or silly, or irrelevant–I’m kind of making this search bathetic. Do I subtly make an argument? It’s true that I’ve overlooked the hundreds of things I could find to more traditionally explicate the poem, like this and this and this. I do not think that the Internet is making us dumber, or that college freshmen today are any more ignorant than I was in 1995.
I rather think that the world has opened up since then. The Internet is the new planet that has swum into our ken. And this endless array of tools, this array of literate resources (I’m talking about comic books, and video games, and tv, and film, and so on), and this unprecedented, instant web of human communication give us ways to play with the great works of art. And if it gives us Grumpy Cat and Katy Perry, the Internet also delivers to us gems like John Ciardi’s A Trenta-Sei of the Pleasure We Take in the Early Death of Keats, which is by turns arch, irreverent, and completely devastating.
I’m not critiquing the Internet or modern youth culture. I’m smiling; I’m enjoying myself. I’m eavesdropping on conversations I never would have had access to before.