“When I have fears that I may cease to be
~~Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact’ey,
~~Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’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 think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
– John Keats, When I Have Fears
I find this poem so deeply relatable. I have many books and stories I am in process of completing and I always tend to keep more content in my head than on paper. I would assume that most other artists have contemplated the fear of dying without completing the work they can visualize. J.D. Salinger had a 6 chapters draft of The Catcher And The Rye stuffed in his jacket when he landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. I wonder what other manuscripts didn’t survive that day? That’s not to mention the countless authors like Dickens who have died in the midst of some of their most intriguing work.
This poem is not simply about leaving unfinished work. It’s also about the fear of leaving behind the very inspirations of this world. Keats writes like a man nurtured by romanticized nature and the triumphs of artists before him. For him the standing alone, thinking, and sinking into nothingness must have been greater than most. To be inspired is to run great risk.