When I Have Fears …

Today is my mother’s birthday, and I would like to post one of my mother’s favorite poems in her memory, “When I have fears that I may cease to be” by john Keats. Afterwards is an interpretation of that poem my mother wrote for a college class. The teacher gave her top mark for the paper and wrote, “This is lovely.” I found the paper in my mother’s handwriting a few years ago, and it is a special treasure.

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.

Interpretation of “When I Have Fears that I May Cease To Be”
Amy Johnson

            To me, the poet Keats is indeed a very beautiful character. He was born with a natural love for beauty, for seeking and appreciating it in all things true, at all times. He said, “truth is beauty, – beauty truth.” He lived through this world, so full of sin, crime and misery, without adopting one thought and custom that told of anything but truth, nobleness and beauty. Since his thoughts and actions represented only the beautiful, so also did his life and works.

            The poem, “When I have Fears that I May Cease To Be,” is very typical of Keats. In it he expresses his appreciation and reverence for two of the greatest factors in life, knowledge that one gains through literature, and nature. He tells how vast is the field of knowledge found in literature, the best thoughts of men (“full ripened grain”) produced down through the ages. Then the author tells us of the mystery that may be found in the stars and other works of nature – “huge cloudy symbols of a high romance.” But, the author goes on, how uncertain is the amount of time that we are permitted to seek and enjoy this worldly knowledge. We may never live to “trace the shadows of the symbols of the high romance, with the magic hand of chance.” God has filled this world with so many wonderful, worthwhile works, and man has contributed so much to the field of literature, that we today should be desirous of receiving and learning while the chance is given us. Sometime, the day shall come when life on this earth shall cease. Then, we stand on the “shore of the wide world alone, and think, till love and fame to nothingness do sink.” Worldly fame, love, wealth or power count for naught. It is only that love and appreciation for truth and beauty in heart and soul that count. The author also implies the idea that the end of life in this world is the beginning of the life in eternity. Hence, the beauty of soul that we gain in this world we may carry with us into the next.

            In all literature that is true and beautiful, the author gives us some foundation for noble and worthwhile thought. Thus, since Keats lived his life for seeking and enjoying truth above all other things, he points out to us in his poetry, the source of truth and beauty that surrounds us. He also gives us the warning that at any time we may cease to be; that is, we must sometime leave this world. How much might we learn from this short poem, if we would only stop and consider. It is the noble, true, worthwhile thoughts and ideals that are everlasting.

1 thought on “When I Have Fears …”

  1. I love all of this, and especially the first line of the last paragraph (and what stark contrast that draws to much of celebrated contemporary lit.)
    What a special, wonderful person she must have been, and how fortunate you are that she was your mother!


Leave a Comment