Sunday, January 23, 2011

When I have fears taht I may cease to be- John Keats

   When I have fears that I may cease to be is a sonnet written by John Keats in 1818. In this poem he expresses his recurring fear of dying without living the life that he wished to have. All the things that used to matter to him such as fame and wealth now seem to be unimportant. “When” shows that he must have thought about this feeling before. In the first quatrain, Keats shows how much he has to express. Indeed, he is both the field of grain and the harvester. The alliteration in “g” exposes the imagery of the harvest: “glean’d”, “garners”, “grain”. He wants to be remembered as a famous writer and fears to fail. In the second quatrain, his “magic hand” l. 8 represents him as a poet and his ability to transform nature into poetry: “the night’s starr’d face” l.5 and “Huge cloudy symbols” l.6. He sees beauty everywhere and is scared that he will not have the time to show it: “to trace their shadows” l.7-8. In the next quatrain, Keats turns to his fear of losing love: “fair creature of an hour” l.9, “I shall never look upon thee more” l.10. This parallels the idea of time; love doesn’t last long. For the poet, Love has two qualities. Firstly, there is the “faery power” that can change the world for the people in love, making it better. Then there is the “unreflecting love” l.12 reminding us of the illusion and imaginary aspect of this world. The exclamation sentences emphasize his desperation. By the end of the sonnet, Keats makes Fame and Love appear unimportant: “till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink” l.14. “I stand alone” l.13 towards “the wide world” l.13 emphasizes the fact that nothing else matters. “The shore” is the limit between him and the rest of the world; he distances himself. John Keats died in February 1821 at 26 years old and he is now remembered as one of the most important poets of his time.

1 comment:

  1. Rather than being an analysis of a text, I think that a reader's response should be what we call it: an actual response. That is, the description of how this text has affected the reader, or maybe the description of the reader's interpretation of this text. That said, I will, instead of writing a plain analysis, proceed to bringing forth my response to the poem entitled "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be", by poet John Keats.
    In his poem we see that John Keats is exposing his fears. He is admitting his vulnerability to the reader, in a very unusual and somehow weirdly pleasing way, because most writers, unlike John Keats in this case, are perceived by the reader as all powerful "masters" of the literary universe they are creating. In a novel, the reader is usually the spectator, while the author of the novel is the "God" that is making everything happen. In this sense, the reader, or "spectator", subconsciously keeps in mind this image of the "all-powerful" author. He doesn't ever doubt the author's capacity to write. Nevertheless, in his poem John Keats, by exposing his fears and insecurities, puts himself in a very unusual and interesting position for the reader. His biggest fear is not actually the fear of dying, but rather the fear of not having fulfilled his ambitions, accomplished his “mission as a writer, before the day when he will “cease to be”. I think this is a beautiful fear, and an honest and honorable one, because it shows that John Keats has found a purpose for his life; he has fixed himself a goal that he wishes to attain before he leaves this earth, before he disappears into nothing, just as when before he was born. He shows that, unlike what many people think, life does have a purpose, and that everyone should find their own purpose for living. The purpose of life is to accomplish one’s ambitions.
    Keats also ends his poem with a very powerful statement: “then on the shore/ Of the wide world I stand alone, and think, / Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink”. This statement goes to demonstrate that in the end, Love and Fame don’t always matter, because within the emptiness that comes after one ceases to be, they have no more meaning, and indeed “sink to nothingness”. This draws an very interesting parallel to the poem Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. In Ozymandias, as we have seen earlier, Shelley also demonstrates, with great irony, that Fame is indeed meaningless in the end, because it is always erased by death, and sinks to nothingness.