Keats' Poems and Letters

Sonnet Analysis - "When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be"

John Keats' sonnet "When I have Fears that I may Cease to Be," written in 1818 when the poet was twenty-three years old, deals with the young man's fears that he will not live long enough to accomplish what he wants to in life. He is afraid that his artistic and poetic potential will not be fulfilled, and that his love will be cut short. Based on Keats' letters and his biography, we can assume that the speaker is indeed Keats himself. Interestingly, the poem was written before Keats contracted tuberculosis, from which he would die a mere three years after the poem was written, adding an eerie, portentous quality to the sonnet. However, it is understandable that he would have fears of an untimely death. His mother had died of the disease a few years earlier, and his younger brother was currently suffering from it.

"When I have Fears" is in many ways typical of Keats' work. He was a master of the sonnet form, and the poem is full of sensitive passion and the romantic imagery for which he is famous. Throughout the poem Keats uses a variety of poetic elements, including form and metrics, to help convey his thoughts and to emphasize his imagery.

The poem takes the form of a Shakespearian sonnet,...

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