Analysis Of When I Have Fears By John Keats

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Fate touches all with tendrils of cruelty. The singer goes mute, the birdwatcher blind; the infant succumbs to his illness. But few fates are harsher than for the artist to die with a gleam in his eyes, his dreams forever unrealized. The gates of creation close and lock, never again to swing open. In previous centuries, the fear of such a fate permeated the lives of writers, painters, and poets, who lived in a world rich with art but low in life expectancy. This unresolvable angst, and the frequency with which death struck, animated the Romantic poets of the 1800s, stoked their fears of failure, and stimulated reflective, eloquent verse. Some Romantics, like the Englishman John Keats, answered this inner dread; others, like the American …show more content…
The elegant quatrains describe, in considerable detail, Keats’ fear of a premature death (Keats 1-12). These lines act as subordinate clauses, precipitating a conclusion in which Keats responds to his dread, allowing his passions and vanity (“love and fame”) to recede to “nothingness” (Keats 12-14). Keats establishes a consistent rhythm, albeit one that permits a degree of flexibility, by writing in iambic pentameter and applying the Shakespearean sonnet’s usual rhyme scheme: a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g (Mason and Nims 312). The variance inherent to this rhyme scheme allows Keats to fully illustrate the elements of his fear. While lines 1-8 discuss the poet’s regret for works uncompleted, lines 9-12 reflect his dread that death will separate him from his beloved. Furthermore, the rhyming couplet allows Keats to provide a concise and firm response to his fear, a quality notably absent from Longfellow’s poem. “I stand alone, and think / Till love and fame to nothingness do sink,” writes the poet (Keats 13-14). By allowing his fears, and perhaps their origins in passion and vanity, to recede into the subconscious, Keats liberates his mind from their …show more content…
Also reflecting standard practice within Petrarchan poetry, Longfellow’s octave utilizes an a b b a, a b b a rhyme scheme and his sestet adopts a c d c, d c d pattern (Mason and Nims 312). The octave’s unified structure and rhyme scheme strike a contrast with Keats’s introductory quatrains. While Keats frames these quatrains as subordinate clauses, preempting a resolution to the fears they discuss, Longfellow’s octave does no such thing. Instead, Longfellow crafts a unified, emotional monologue. The American poet wallows in depression, dissatisfied with his artistry and alarmed that death, later described as “thundering from the heights,” will claim him before he can achieve his long-neglected goals (12). Tonally, Longfellow’s gloominess distinguishes his sonnet from “When I Have Fears,” which explores an unnerving fate but which concludes in an expression of solemn confidence. In his sestet, Longfellow merely replaces the octave’s melancholy with a sense of fearful exhaustion. “Half-way up the hill” of life, the aging poet risks an encounter with “the cataract of Death,” a meeting which will ensure that Longfellow’s artistic visions remain

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