This was the first Elizabethan sonnet with which I ever fell in love.
My English teacher lent me a book of John Keats’ poetry when I was in Year 9 at school, and this poem captured my heart. The eloquence, the imagery, the pathos… before the day was out, I had committed this poem to memory.
When I told the teacher the following day, and recited the poem for him, he gave me the book to keep. That I still have it, and that it automatically falls open at this poem should surprise nobody.
Sure, it’s dramatic and very ‘over-thinky’, but who of us hasn’t had those moments?
When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be
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 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.
If you enjoyed this poem and would like to read more Keats, I suggest either ‘To Autumn’ or ‘Bright Star’ – my other favourites!
4 thoughts on “Poem: ‘When I Have Fears’ by John Keats”
I wonder what was going on with you at the time to cause this poem to have such a profound impact upon you. I also can’t help remembering that he died young, and wonder how this poem may have been a glimpse into whatever spiritual healing may have been preparing him for that.
I have no idea, other than remembering how blown away I was by the beauty of the language.
A lovely post and a beautiful poem. Thank you. He’s one of my favourite poets, and I’m saddened that he died so young, with no idea he’d become a famous and beloved poet 100 years later.