4110 Keats

This minor planet is named after John Keats (1795 - 1821), an English Romantic poet who wrote well and prolifically, and died young. There's a lot of literature and discussion on Keats, which I can't possibly hope to represent here, but I can say that I find what I have read of his works to be thoughtful and emotional and beautiful.

I think it is prudent, however, to consider one of his well-known early works, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," printed here in its entirety:

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.

According to the Minor Planet Dictionary [1], the name for this minor planet was inspired by this piece, and specifically the line "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken." It can easily be imagined that this line would speak to an astronomer like Edward Bowell. Poets and astronomers agree — there is nothing quite like the feeling of discovery.

There is a little bit of history behind this line. This poem was written in 1816, and the planet Uranus was discovered in 1781, so Keats was well familiar with this discovery. Thus, the line in a sense mythologizes Sir William Herschel's initial observation of the planet. This partially inspires the symbol for this asteroid: an eye with an iris and a pupil, with an arrow above it. This looks like the symbol for the planet Uranus in an eye, representing the planet's discovery by a "watcher of the skies."

On a more abstract level, this symbol also represents Keats' own approach to poetry: with wonder, emotional insight, and Keats' own concept of negative capability: the truth in uncertainty, the knowledge that exists above reason. The arrow here might also remind us of Apollo, patron of poets and god of knowledge.

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[1] https://minorplanetcenter.net/db_search/show_object?object_id=4110


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