This sonnet by Keats addresses a recurrent theme in his work, namely the way in which his acute sense of mortality leaves him with an intense premonition of failure, but also with an enhanced appetite for life. Here, the conflict between these two things brings him to a dead halt in the last line.
When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pil’d 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.
Recording commissioned by the Poetry Archive, shared here with kind permission of the reader.