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“WHEN I HAVE
FEARS THAT I MAY
CEASE TO BE”
Poem by John Keats
Explication by Jonas Bagwell and Eva
Hong
THE MAN BEHIND THE FEAR
John Keats was born October 31, 1795 in London, England.
He lived an understandably short life due to a bout with tuberculosis
which was to end his life in 1821- He was 26 years old.
A melancholy man, his poems often revolved around the aspect of a short
life and unfulfilled dreams, a subject he was no doubt come to terms with
in his final years. He also wrote many letters that were later compiled and
released due to their deeply personal nature, biographical reliability and
quality of writing.
With a short time on earth as well as a subpar education, it’s amazing to
think that John Keats accomplished what he did. He wrote poems and
sonnets awash with vivid imagery, great sensuous appeal and ties to classic
legend.
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high pilgrave’d 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.
LITERAL SENSE
 Sometimes I wonder about my death and feel scared. Is there enough time
to accomplish what I want? Will my accomplishments amount to anything
substantial?
 It takes an entire lifetime to comprehend the beauty of things, the natural
and the superficial. I now realize this too late into my life. There isn’t enough
time to take in all the beauty the night sky has to offer, even with chance
and divinity in my favor.
 Oh, Fanny, my beautiful love! When I look at you, I feel remorse. The
thought of someday no longer getting to relish in your radiance, and that I
will no longer be there to return your love, sickens me.
 The though of losing something is as good a reason as any to not have at all.
I’m truly alone, until death, when all my earthly fixations will no longer
matter.
LITERAL SENSE- LINE BY LINE
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
When I think about my death
Before my goals are achieved
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before I amount to anything
Before high pilgraved books, in charact'ry,
Anything of worth or value,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I see the worlds natural beauty
Infinite, symbolic and pure
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
And fear that I can never fully appreciate
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
Or begin to comprehend it, even with luck.
And feel that I may never live to trace
When, my love, these fears entail
Never seeing your beauty again
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
Never feeling your magic again
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
And Never getting to return your love
That I shall never look upon thee more,
I feel alone and I keep thinking of my death
Until it finally comes, and all of this no longer
Never have relish in the faery power
matters
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
DICTION
 This poem uses a blend of abstract, colloquial and vivid language. The
author paints a rich picture of his dreams and death with strong imagery
and diction, as to give an almost artful and beautiful tinge to this bitter
poem.
ABSTRACT, COLLOQUIAL AND VIVID
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high pilgraved 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.
SYNTAX MANIPULATION
 In may older sonnets and poems, syntax (word order) is edited and
changed to establish a better lyrical flow, syllable count , or mental
rhythm.
 Syntax is also warped to put a new spin on ideas, such as mentioning
the subject after the less important ideas, to give a feeling of
belittlement or loss of self.
DECIPHERING SYNTAX
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high pilgraved 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.
TONE
 John Keats really establishes that he isn’t happy, and that he doesn’t care
if you’re happy either. He presents his poem in a regretful and spitefully
wishful tone, washing waves of lament over beautiful imagery and
genuine poetic talent. The atmosphere is very personal and brooding,
and the punctuation in the poem is very important in the overall tone.
When read aloud and correctly, the impact of the poem is much bolder
than when read in your mind.
MOOD
 Since the tone (voice of the reader) is highly pessimistic, the mood is
reflective of that. No sunshine or happy thoughts should cross the
readers mind as they read the poem.
RHETORICAL SITUATION
 Who is speaking? John Keats.
 To who is he speaking to? John Keats.
 What’s the reason? He’ll die some day.
 Why is he doing this? He’s scared.
This sonnet, like others, was written as a thought process between the
author and himself. He’s reminding himself of all the reasons he’s scared,
and sporadically switches from subject to subject – pens, books, grain, the
night sky and his love. The disjointed thought process that usually comes
with a personal narrative also gives credence to the use of syntax,
emotional punctuation and more abstract thoughts. A.K.A “Well, It makes
sense to me.”
WHAT ABOUT US?
There are really no outward references or acknowledgements to
the audience until the last few lines. These lines can be considered as
directed to the audience because they’re more confessionary and forward.
The last line is the most soberly stated allusion to death in the entire poem,
giving a sense of mental grounding while it also references his fame, which
is due to an audience. None of the lines are specifically designed to speak
to or directly connect with the audience, but the last few lines is where he
seems to speak to someone other than himself.
DOES THE POEM USE FIGURATIVE
LANGUAGE?
A) Simile
- In line 4, "hold like rich garners the full ripen'd
grain.” This simile relates how the book is holing his
complete thoughts to how garners (storehouses
for gain) hold the fully ripened grain. He wants the
value of his work to reflect the value and bounty of
a garner of grain.
METAPHORS
B) Metaphor
- In line 12 and 13, "shore of the wide world." The shore of the world
creates a visual image of vastness. The world does not have an actual shore
of course, but the shore is his standpoint of overlooking all his life.
PERSONIFICATION
C) Personification
- In line 2, “Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain.” It
expresses the idea that his pen is really the lead in his
creative process, giving a sense of distance between author
and subject.
- In line 3, “Before high piled books, in charact'ry.” It
expresses the books as an animate object that holds all the
thoughts of his mind.
- In line 5, “When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face.” It
expresses night as a face with stars stretching across it.
KENNING
D) Kenning
- In line 9, “fair creature of an hour.”
It is description of his wife. “Fair creature” expresses beauty and “of an
hour” means temporary due to his impending death.
WHAT KIND OF IMAGERY DOES THE
POEM USE?
A)
- In line 4, “Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain.” words such
as "glean'd," "garners," "full ripen'd grain“ gives the imagery of harvest.
- In line 5, “night’s starred face.” Readers can visualize the images of a
beautiful sky, a sheet of darkness speckled with points of life.
IMAGERY CONTINUED
B) - In line 8, “Their shadows with the magic hand of chance.” The shadows
are faint expressions of his dreams that he may be able to achieve.
- In line 3, “Before high-piled books.” It expresses the extent of his literary
aspirations visually.
-In line 12 and 13, “Then on the shore of the wide world I stand alone.” I
can visualize a man standing alone on the outskirts of the world.
SYMBOLISM
c) Symbolism
- In line 1, “I may cease to be” symbolizes death.
- In line 3, “Before high-piled books in charact’ry.” This is symbolic of his
hopes and dreams.
- In line 6, “Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance.” These cloudy
symbols are symbols of the great mysteries in life which he wants to
find out.
HOW DOES SOUND CONTRIBUTE TO THE
EFFECT OF THE POEM?
A) The rhyme scheme in this poem is a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g with ten
syllables in each line.
B) The repetition of r sounds in "charactery," "rich," "garners,"ripen'd," and
"grain.”
The repetition of "when" at the beginning of each quatrain and “of” in line
12 &13.
SOUND CONTINUED
C) Alliteration in line 3 and 4, "glean'd," "garners," "grain."
D) Assonance in line 2 "glean'd" and "teeming" to draw attention to the line
which expresses the speaker's fear. Also, in line 3 “high ,”piled”, and “night”.
E) There is no onomatopoeia in this poem.
HOW IS THE POEM STRUCTURED?
A)
“When I have fears that I may cease to be” is in the form of a Sonnet.
B)
The 14 lines are divided into 3 quatrains (4-line stanzas) and a final
couplet by different groups of rhyming words.
C)
The rhyme scheme in this poem is a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g with ten
syllables in each line.
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high pilgrave’d 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.

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