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that one may

When I have Fears that I may Cease to Be

"When I have Fears that I may Cease to Be" is an Elizabethan sonnet by the English Romantic poet John Keats. The 14-line poem is written in iambic pentameter and consists of three quatrains and a couplet. Keats wrote the poem in 1817 and published it in 1818.

The Text

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact'ry,
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 feel 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.

Analysis

Keats describes fears of death through what the narrator 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 the narrator is only afraid of death because he will not have the chance to fulfil his potential to write great poetry. He discusses the words still inside him, stating that his pen has not yet “gleaned [his] teeming brain.” The narrator wishes to write all he can before death prevents him from doing so. He also wishes to love before his death. He feels that he will “never live to trace [the] shadows” of love. He fears that after death, he will never be able to love. This shows that the narrator believes he will simply “cease to be” after death, which is contrary to many other’s beliefs. It also seems that the narrator wishes to become well-known or famous through his writing. In the first stanza, he wishes for his writings to be in books. The line of the poem also hints that he longed for fame. It is apparent through these two examples that he wished to become well-known for his writings. It is interesting how Keats uses a sonnet to discuss his fears of death. The narrator 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. This is a rationalization that whatever he accomplishes in life will probably not reflect in other people’s lives forever. This understanding answers his fears of death.

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