John Keats- "When I have fears"


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.


    The romantic poet John Keats in the poem “When I have fears,” brings to awareness two important aspects of life: fear and death. His main passion is writing, however, he understands that he is standing on the way of his dreams. His creativity is compromised by fear; his fear of not being good enough of a writer stops him from channeling his inspirations. Most of us suffer from the same mental disease, one characterized by fear leading to self-sabotage: “I won’t follow my dream because I know I can’t succeed,” “No matter how hard I try, there will always be someone better,” “what’s the point of falling in love, if I know that at some point is going to end?” Every human no matter how grandiose may be the skill; he will eventually experience doubt coming from his ego. The ego comes from separation from God (higher power) and identification with mind/intellect. The moment you begin doubting yourself, you have unconsciously chosen the path of destruction; your ego will inhibit you to heal and grow spiritually. The more you feed the ego, the further away you are from reaching your full potential in this lifetime. More identification with your ego means less identification with your soul.

   The poet uses “ripened grain” as a metaphor for his life; the grain has matured and gone through its full cycle. He compares himself to that grain and raises the question of death coming to his encounter. He knows he hasn’t yet completed his inner cycle of development to his highest self, and as the time goes by he feels anxious to leave the world before accomplishing his mission. Anxiety is a by-product of intellect; the more you live on your mind, greater will be the separation from present to future and past.

   The word “gleaned”, which means the information that comes from various different sources, is related to the unlimited creativity that is granted to him by a higher force, but he is afraid of dying before we can completely access it all. One could argue that facing his fear is key to channeling the truthful poetry that will come from his heart. The creativity flow is a consequence of getting in touch with a deeper side of him and overcoming the limitations imposed by his own mind. This is a relevant issue to humanity as a whole, for as long as we let our minds dictate our truths we will be leaving in a never ending lie.

     In the first line “When I have fears that I may cease to be,” there is the sense of fear intruding his emotional world to the extent that he will lose awareness of the self, ultimately becoming one with fear. He reminds us that fear is a valid emotion and facing it as opposed to running away from it, will lead us to a greater understanding of the meaning of life and death. “When there is fear, one ceases to exists” means that if fear is the prevalent state of being, then one has killed his soul. The soul is made out of love, and the opposite of love is fear; one can choose to live by love or by fear.

   “Upon the night’s starred face, Cloudy symbols of high romance,” the night stands for the unknown, and the unknown represents the constant changes in life, the symbols of high romance is the salvation for the fear of dying before achieving love and success. The only constant in the universe is change and death, and the deeper understanding of it allows one to move beyond the fear into appreciating life for what it is. He believes that he may never live to trace the beautiful path of infinite possibilities that life offers, if he continues to allow fear to torment him. As a painter traces symbols with hands, the shadows is his own darkness that needs to be seen and drawn out in order to move forward with faith in his destiny and attain success. But again, fear from failure is projecting his death long before he can even accomplish anything greater than himself.

    The shore written in line can be interpreted as the limit he has reached internally in the process of understanding his innermost desires and facing his fears. Upon reaching the limit, he realizes that he stands alone in the world, and contemplates what truly matters at the end of a lifetime; is it fame? Love? One may argue that because he understands his own mortality, this forces him to let go of his fears, learn to become present and live life to the fullest.

    This is a lesson for all of us to learn.


1 Response


May 19, 2016

Really appreciate you sharing this article. Keep writing. Ueda

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