When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be

When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be

by John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred 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.

Summary of When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be

  • “When I Have Fears” popularity: “When I have Fears” is a famous and worldly anthologized sonnet written by John Keats. It was first published in 1848 in Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats by Richard Monckton Milnes. The poem illustrates the essential issues like poetry, love and time. The poem expresses his fear of mortality and limitations of life. Since its publication, it has achieved immense popularity on account of its everlasting description of life’s transient nature.
  • “When I Have Fears” as a Representative of Life and Death: As this poem is about the fear of early death, the poet says that his short life may not allow him to outpour his innermost feelings. As a passionate poet, he wants to transcribe all his ripe thoughts in a pile of books before reaching the end of his life. Unlike others, he wants to live his life with all its joys. Not only does he praise the mysterious beauty of nature but also wishes to do justice by capturing it in his words. However, the fear of death fades away from his exuberant delights, and he realizes that he will miss all these wonders and his beloved’s company, too. The poem conveys an essential message that everything in this world such as love, fame, beauty are just transitory.
  • Major Themes in “When I Have Fears”: Fear of death, love, and nature are some of the significant themes layered of this sonnet. The poet uses literary elements and plenty of images to develop these themes. He starts his argument from worrying about dying before accomplishing his goals leading to worrying about the death of his significant other. He then illustrates that all his thoughts fade away in the hands of death. He feels sad because he will miss watching the beautiful nature and the objects. He adds that his demise would also separate him from his beloved. Thus, the fear of his early death makes him insecure.

 Analysis of Literary Devices in “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be”

Literary devices are used to bring richness and clarity to the texts. The writers and poets use them to make their poem or prose texts appealing and meaningful. Keats has successfully used some literary devices in this poem to express his fears. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been stated below.

  1. Imagery: The use of imagery makes the readers understand the writer’s feelings, emotions or ideas. Keats has used images of sight such as, “fair creature” “wide world” “night’s starred face” and “high-pilèd books, in character.”
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /r/ in “Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain”.
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /w/ in “Of the wide world I stand alone, and think”.
  4. Simile: A simile is a device used to compare two different objects to understand meanings by comparing these object’s qualities. Keats has used similes in the third and fourth lines to compare wheat grains to language or literature, “Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain”.
  5. Personification: Personification is to give human characteristics to non-human things. The first example is seen in the eighth line of the poem, “Their shadows with the magic hand of chance” as if the chance is human with magical hands. Another example is in the fourth line, “When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,” as if the night is a human that has a starry
  6. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “When I have fears that I may cease to be” and /i/ sound in “And think that I may never live to trace.”

The literary analysis shows that Keats has artistically sketched his fears in the poem with the help of these literary devices.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  • Sonnet: A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem with the same idea runs throughout the poem. This poem is Shakespearian sonnet comprises three quatrains and a couplet.
  • Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, the first three verses are quatrains.
  • Couplet: There are two constructive lines in a couplet usually in the same meter and joined by rhyme. This sonnet ends with the couplet, which generally resolves the central idea of the poem such as:

“Of the wide world, I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.”

  • Rhyme scheme: The poem follows the ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme with iambic pentameter.
  • Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter consisting of five iambs. The poem comprises iambic pentameter such as, “when I have fears that I may cease to be.”

Quotes to be Used

These lines can be used when narrating intense feelings of despair. These could be used in a lecture to explain the nothingness of love, fame, and

“Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.”

  1. These lines can be used to illustrate the mesmerizing beauty of nature that is spread across the universe.

“When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance.”