A few more thoughts on the subject of how accurate we should be when we write poetry:
A few days ago, I had cause to look up Keats’ On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, and I read the Wikipedia page. (The poem appears there, too.)
Despite what it says in the poem, it wasn’t “stout Cortez” who stood “Silent upon a peak in Darien”, but Nuñez de Balboa. But although the error was identified, apparently
“Keats chose to leave it in, presumably because historical accuracy would have necessitated an unwanted extra syllable in the line.”
Although I can see the poetical arguments for preserving the mistake, I am not sure I would have done so, as it is a clear factual error.
However, in my Notes for a November Poem, the first person narrator includes the phrase
[…] No still small voice
commands me from the prunus.
She’s confused, of course, seeing the red leaves of autumn and being reminded of God speaking to Moses from the burning bush but getting the story mixed up with the voice that spoke to Elijah. It could be argued that this is a mistake in the poem. Instead, I think it gives a little more depth to the narrator, it says something about her fallibility.
Despite my claims to the contrary, some people assume I am the narrator of my poems, something that I almost always deny. Somehow, though, I don’t feel the narrator of Keat’s poem as separate from the writer, and I think the historical innacuracy distracts from the piece.
So, am falling into the trap I so strongly warn against? Am I being unreasonable in thinking I should be allowed a fallible narrator but that it is Keats himself who is speaking?