When I have fears that I may cease to be

By John Keats:

When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has glean`d my teeming brain,

Before high piled books, in charactry,

Hold like rich garners the full-rippen`d grain;

When I behold, upon the night`s starr`d 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 I think

Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.


At the age of 19 John Keats found his calling in life and began writing poetry while studying at St Thomas`s and Guy`s Hospitals. By 1816 he had abandoned his plans to be an apothecary to take up poetry full time, which Blackwood`s Magazine pejoratively referred to as Keats joining the Cockney School of poetry. In these early years Keats rubbed shoulders with leading artists and poets such as: Leigh Hunt, Wordsworth, Shelley, and sundry other luminaries of the avant garde of the day; became engaged to Fanny Brawne after a hotly romantic courtship, then was infected with tuberculosis, after which he dropped poor Fanny and headed for the sunnier and warmer climes of Italy on the advise of his doctors. There, after renting a house on the Spanish Steps, he died on the 23rd February, 1821 at the tender age of 25.

The story of his life and death really does seem to spread out before us as the archetypal road map of the doomed, romantic poet. A melancholic disposition; broken love affair; followed by a brief, but fatal illness at an early age; and a death over looking one of the most romantic spots on the tourist`s calendar. All the boxes are ticked with unerring precision; the fact that he wrote 24 carat gold poetry of the highest, and purest quality really does place him up there with the angels.


But at the end, he thought he had lived a wasted life; he thought his enemies ( in other words – critics) had won because he was going to die in a small room, in a foreign country, unable to defend the reputation which he considered had been wrongly defamed by publications such as Blackwood`s Magazine, which had given Keats` Endymion a severe, and catastrophic roasting of the first order. He died thinking he had failed. A truly sad end to an humongous talent, but would we have our great Romantic poets any other way? This inherent fracture in the soul is what makes a good writer a great one – or so the theory goes: to struggle is to experience, and if you are a melancholic who is somehow either doomed to struggle against the adversity of life with the God given ability to write with sumptuous skill, and expires long before you become an old bore endlessly repeating yourself; well so much the better for your reputation.

“Here lies One Whose Name was writ in water.”

“This grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone.”

Fame, and indeed Life certainly is, fleeting.”  


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