Poem introduction

This sonnet by Keats addresses a recurrent theme in his work, namely the way in which his acute sense of mortality leaves him with an intense premonition of failure, but also with an enhanced appetite for life. Here, the conflict between these two things brings him to a dead halt in the last line.

When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be

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.

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John Keats

John Keats Downloads read by Andrew Motion

1To Autumn


2Ode to Melancholy


3Ode to a Nightingale


4When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be


5Bright Star, would I were stedfast...