John Keats - When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be : a Discussion of the Main Themes

When I Have Fears That I may Cease to Be – John Keats
Keats was a young man whose family was plagued by disease and death and as a result he was obsessed with death and was fearful of dying young. This fear is the main theme of the poem ‘When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be’.

The poem is an English sonnet which is made up of fourteen lines divided into an eight line octave and a six line sestet. The poem as a whole has a regular rhythm and rhyme pattern. The first eight lines make up the octave and deal with one aspect of the poet’s fear, namely that he may die before realising his full creative potential as a writer. As discussed on the Brooklyn College website, Keats uses the imagery of a harvest in the first 4 lines of the sonnet to communicate his ideas.   The image of his ‘teeming brain’ being ‘gleaned’ emphasises the fertility of his imagination, and the abundance of ideas he wants to explore in his poetry are likened to ‘full ripen’d grain’ held in ‘rich garners’. The repetition of ’g’ in the imagery serves to link the harvest images and the use of words such as ‘high-piled’ and ‘rich’ emphasises the   abundance and richness of the poet’s ideas. There is a tone of pride in the first four lines of the octave but the repeated use of the word ‘before’ lends a melancholy to it. Although Keats is proud of his abilities as a poet, he is sad that he may not achieve fame for his work before he dies.

In the second four lines of the octave the poet talks regretfully of the fear that he will not have time to write about the infinite possibilities the world has to offer as material for his poetry.   His is the ‘magic hand’ that will never represent or ‘trace’ the beauty of nature (‘night’s starr’d face’) and he

also fears that he will not be given time to develop and express the potent ideas, ‘huge, cloudy symbols’, that he perceives as grows older and more mature.

There is a shift at the beginning of the sestet where Keats expresses the fear that he may...