When I Have Fears by John Keats (Critical Review)

when i have fears john keats summary explanation analysis

Before moving toward the critical review of the famous poem “When I have Fears” written by John Keats, let us explain it. After explaining it from various perspectives and getting understandably, we will move on.

The poet experiences great pain when he is haunted by the idea that he may die before achieving his high objectives in creating poetry of great merit. His brain is full of rich thoughts and if his pen gleans the cream of his thoughts, they could enrich the pages of great literary works that would be preserved in the form of piled-up books. He says that ideas in his brain are fully developed and matured like ripened grain. They only need to e collected and arranged with his pen and preserved in books.

The poet is constantly haunted by the fears of death. Hence his suffering is doubled when he looks at the sky full of shining stars and huge clouds which are romantic symbols greatly inspiring for a poet like him. But fears haunt him constantly that he may not live to interpret those symbols of love and romance. Hence such inspiring moments that could awaken his intellectual abilities to beautifylly express those subjects may not come.

The poet says: “Another cause of my suffering is that I will be deprived of the joys of looking at the beautiful face of my beloved if I die so early. I may perhaps never relish the spiritual peleasure which I taste in a carefree lvoe of my beloved. “

While absorbed in these worries, the poet suddenly feels to be transported on the brink of the mortal world where he can observe the ocean of eternity. At this point, feeling a touch of eternity, the poet realizes that his ambitions of earthly life like love and fame are insignificant. Consequently, his fears are gone and love and fame lose all their charm for him.

Explanation with Reference

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain
Before high-piled books, in charact’ry
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened gain;

In these lines, the poet expresses his fear of premature death. His mind is full of lofty and novel ideas. His pen has the power to transfer all his thoughts in words as the farmer cuts grains with a scythe. As a farmer stores grains in the warehouse to protect so that the poet pens his thoughts in order to preserve them. The poet tells us he has apprehensions that he may expire before converting all his ideas in the form of books. His mind is like a fertile field full of a rich harvest. Through the metaphor of ripened-grain, the poet expresses fear that he may not transfer his ideas into worlds. It is noticeable that consumption was a very common and incurable disease in those days. His brother Tom Keats died of tuberculosis. John Keats also died of the same disease at the age of twenty-six.

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;

In the above lines, the poet expresses his helplessness before death. HE speaks heart-rending truth in these lines. He feels pathetic when he sees the night full of stars and huge clouds making different patterns in the sky. That he will not able to enjoy the blessing of nature. The clouds make beautiful patterns in the sky which brings to his mind many classical romantic stories. These romantic symbols inspire the poet to compose beautiful poetry. But the idea of death drowns him in the well of gloom and glum. He thinks the clouds will go on making the wonderful and mysterious signs in the sky. But the poet will not be able to enjoy and interpret them in his poetry.

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!

In these lines, the poet regrets that his pre-mature death will deprive him of his consummation of love. Early death will not spare him to enjoy the warm pleasure of love. To appreciate and worship beauty is an inborn quality of John Keats. He is said to be the poet of beauty. That is the reason, he feels sorry that he won’t be able to enjoy beauty after death. According to him, beauty is transitory so he calls it a fair creature of an hour. With the thoughts of beauty, the idea of love is also closely co-related. After his death, he will not be able to enjoy love. For him, love is always cruel and callous having no mercy. Despite this, it has a magical power that entraps us. Even unreflecting love has its own charm that the poet is going to miss after his demise.

O then, on the shore
Of the wide world, I stand alone and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink

In these lines, the poet feels transported himself on the shore of the mortal world. He can observe the ocean of eternity. Here he comes face to face with death. The truth of this world is revealed to him. He acquires a clearer vision of the truth of love and fame. Love and fame are not such problems of human life. A man should not be worried as they are not an essential part of our happiness. They are insignificant and unimportant in the general drama of human life. All world ambitions, love, and fame lose their charm and sink into nothingness. Hence the poet consoles himself and comes to compromising term with life.

Critical Analysis

John Keats is one of the greatest poets of English poetry in so many genres, but he specially distinguished himself as a great writer of odes and sonnets. His sonnet “When I have fears” is among this eight greatest sonnets.

In this sonnet, Keats has artistically expressed his fears about his untimely death. Keats is a great pictorial artist and second to Spencer in this respect. In this sonnet, Keats has presented many artistic and striking similes in the sonnet. He says that the ideas and thoughts which his fertile brain creates should be stored in high-piled books as the full ripened grain is stored in a granary. Another artistic pictire has been painted in the following lines:

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

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