Treasure Island

John Keats

(31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821 / London, England)

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When I Have Fears



When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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Read poems about / on: romance, magic, power, alone, world, night, love, fear

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  • Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (6/22/2014 2:15:00 AM)

    Of the wide world world I stand alone and think......It is nice to read. The great poet's great poem and it is wonderful beyond words of appreciation.It has no barriers of country, It has no barriers of belief, It has the unity of mind the universal I think. (Report) Reply

  • * Sunprincess * (6/18/2014 11:57:00 AM)

    ~ Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
    Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.~
    ...........in the end to nothingness we sink
    .........not love or riches will be of any consequence
    ........the only thing which will remain is our legacy (Report) Reply

  • Terry Craddock (2/19/2014 3:01:00 PM)

    The essence of this poem 'When I Have Fears' by John Keats, is his fear that he will die long before he has a chance to write, to quote Keats, 'Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain'. Keats laments the fact he will die before he has had a chance to study richly in depth, 'Before high-piled books, in charactery, Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain'. Keats lacks the time to study 'distinctive qualities', in subjects which are fields of interest for him, and to develop his ideas into fruition on these subjects. Keats will probably have no time for romance for love, which be sadly reflects upon as

    'When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
    Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
    And think that I may never live to trace'

    This depth of feeling, this loss over love not to be known, lived, enjoyed is extended with

    'Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
    And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
    That I shall never look upon thee more,
    Never have relish in the faery power
    Of unreflecting love; '

    It becomes obvious that even more than the pain Keats' feels, over what he will never live to write, is the fear of dying, without the hope of the love that a longer live; should have guaranteed. These thoughts dominate and haunt his mind as 'then on the shore Of the wide world I stand alone, and think'; clearly prove.

    Keats begins this poem with the statement and declaration 'When I have fears that I may cease to be' and expanses the reasons for this fear, finally rounding up his thoughts with the ultimate fear and reason for this fear that he feels, 'Till love and fame to nothingness do sink'. Keats is afraid that he will die and be swiftly forgotten.

    While we who read Keats mourn his short life, we celebrate the richness, quality and quantity of all he achieved in such a short life. For genuine lovers of poetry Keats will never be forgotten. (Report) Reply

  • Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (2/19/2014 7:18:00 AM)

    The poet's inborn feeling of fear is beautifully carved out in this poem and the powerful words with lot of emotions wonderfully told the sad feeling and words combinations is exceptionally good. (Report) Reply

  • Paul Reed (2/19/2014 4:00:00 AM)

    Words in such combinations and written with such perception take your breath away (Report) Reply

  • Shahzia Batool (2/19/2013 3:13:00 AM)

    @Manonton Dalan...it's right to talk about the living poets, but the literary giants can never be replaced...or ignored! ! ! (Report) Reply

  • Roisin Murphy (5/23/2012 6:25:00 PM)

    My favourite Keats poem! I love his romantic style of writing. I love his morose themes. I love his use of metaphors. I love his honesty.
    Also, it's so easy to relate to. Everybody is afraid of dying before they've accomplished in life what they set out to. And it's a credit to him to have left such a legacy in such a short life.
    I have yet to come across a poem of his that doesn't leave a mark.
    These two lines are just haunting in my opinion, I could never get them out of my head.
    And think that I may never live to trace
    Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance (Report) Reply

  • Manonton Dalan (2/19/2012 4:14:00 AM)

    it's all fear. i hear people talk
    about their fear not necessarily
    death but simple like getting late.
    (poem of the day; this poem will
    show again 19feb2913 and so as other
    poems every year, i wish poemhunter
    do something different... like put some
    of the poems of still living poets, maybe
    we have opportunity to know first hand
    from poet. our interpretation could be
    different.) (Report) Reply

  • Terence George Craddock (2/19/2010 5:25:00 AM)

    Keats is not expressing a fear of death. TB has already killed his mother and brother. He bemoans the fact the he is afraid, that his exhausting fight with his disease, will kill him before he can write ‘high-piled books’. His pen pours out sometimes prematurely, as much as he is able to write in ill health, ‘glean'd my teeming brain’ his words ‘in charactery’; he reminds twice his works are ‘Before... the full ripen'd grain’. He like his work is harvested too soon. It is his ‘high romance’ that he grieves the most stating, ‘And think that I may never live to trace.... That I shall never look upon thee more’. He moved to Italy, in a desperate attempt to prolong his life in a warmer climate, writing a final year, alone he writes and thinks; works alone in ‘the wide world’ until his dreams of ‘love and fame’, with his last vestiges of energy, sink into ‘nothingness’. Fanny Brawne, his ‘fair creature of (but) an hour’ and Keats, can never marry due to his ill health and financial situation, thus thoughts of her and fame; both denied him, pull upon his heart in his last declining days. Ware thee well Keats. (Report) Reply

  • Joseph Poewhit (2/19/2010 1:48:00 AM)

    A real deep poem of inner contemplation. Note the era, with books piled high, and a state of solitude. What seems to be missing, is the call of devine inspiration from GOD. Leaving an emptiness in the being of Keats. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (2/19/2010 1:45:00 AM)

    A genuine fear of Keats makes him feel and say what will happen before his potential ability develops to fruition! It is really heartening to read about the thoughts of his demise soon before he achieves fame in his profession due to dejection, a consequence of his failure in love affair with Fanny Browne! As he thought his life too ended soon; otherwise he would have achieved a fame like Shakespeare it was believed! High class sonnet to read! (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (2/19/2009 6:41:00 AM)

    I was going to write 'poor Keats' - but great fame came to him. His poetry is threaded through with the thoughts of death and sexual frustration. The Ode to the Grecian Urn is a wonderful example of these two things sublimating into wondrous poetry. This poem is a more explicit recognition of them. (Report) Reply

  • Norman How (2/19/2009 4:07:00 AM)

    It is worth rmembering in the context of this poem that Keats only lived to be 26. He had symptoms of Tb well before his death and the shadow it cast over his life must have been very painful in one so fully 'alive, ' sensitive and creative. I feel from this poem that he feared for the early demise of that creativity and his ability to love and be loved. (Report) Reply

  • Shane Hurley (10/12/2008 4:42:00 PM)

    In John Keats poem 'When i have fears', keats describes fears of death through what he wishes to accomplish through life. He fears death because he will miss the great things such as love, fame, and writing. At the start of the poem, it seems as though that Keats is only afraid of death because he will not have the chance to fulfil his potential to write great poetry. He discusses the words “gleaned my teeming brain.” Keats wishes to write all he can before death prevents him from doing so. This shows that Keats believes he will simply “cease to be” after death. It also seems that Keats wishes to become famous through his writing. It is interesting how keats uses a sonnet to discuss his ambitions for fame and fears of death. Keats talks of his different fears throughout the poem, and the last two lines show he comes to an understanding with his death. He states that he will think of his death, but in the end, love and fame will eventually fade away.
    I thought this poem really conveyed what greatness one wants to achieve before their time comes!
    Well that took a while, so hope you like it sir! ..... (Report) Reply

Read all 29 comments »

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