When I have fears: Synopsis and Commentary

Synopsis of When I have fears

The speaker expresses his fears that he will die before he has had an opportunity to accomplish his work. He has so much he wants to write and possibly little time to put his thoughts on paper. 
The speaker is extremely sensitive to beauty, whether manifested in the stars or in a woman seen by chance. The thought that he may die young and never be able to experience again either beauty or love makes him feel desolate, contemplating ‘nothingness’, the certainty of annihilation and with it the elimination of his fears.

Moonlight by Lionel Walden 1902Commentary on When I have fears

This poem was written between 22 and 28 January 1818.
Richard Woodhouse, the lawyer who gave literary and legal advice to Keats’ publishers, Taylor and Hessey, often discussed Keats’ poems with the poet. He noted that the phrases, ‘And think that I may never live to trace / Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance’:
give some insight into Keats’ mode of writing Poetry. He has repeatedly said…that he never sits down to write, unless he is full of ideas – and then thoughts come about him in troops … one of his Maxims is that if Poetry does not come naturally, it had better not come at all.     


glean’d: gathered the products of (literally collected all the corn in a harvest)
teeming: full of, or swarming with ideas
charactery: letters of the alphabet (a word first used by Shakespeare)
garners: archaic tern for granary
fair creature of an hour: a beautiful woman whom Keats had seen only fleetingly. Woodhouse stated that Keats was thinking of the same woman he had seen in the summer of 1814 at Vauxhall Gardens (see Time’s sea). He is not referring to Fanny Brawne, whom he met later in the same year he wrote this poem.

Investigating commentary on When I have fears

  • What does Keats see or recognise as he stands alone ‘on the shore / Of the wide world’ that drives all thoughts of love and fame – as well as all personal concerns – from his head?
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