Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When I Have Fears

One of my favorite poets is John Keats. I like all of his poetry, but one poem that I love is "When I Have Fears." 


When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be

BY JOHN KEATS
When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd 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.

This poem seems a bit hard to understand at first because of some of the words like charactery and faery, but it's a really simple sonnet. The touching story behind this poem is that Keats wrote it because he knew that he wouldn't live long: he had tuberculosis. He feared that his early death would stop him from writing all of the great poems, from charting the heavens, and from being with the woman he loved. 

Ok, that's enough of the English teacher stuff. Here's what I think about the poem:

Keats was right. No matter how old you are or how much fame and recognition you have, your life is never long enough. The older I get, I seem to be content with having less. I tend to value time more and work at making memories for my friends and family, mostly so that I will be remembered. And I have fears, that all that I want to do, whether it makes me famous or not, I won't have time to complete. I won't get to express my love and gratitude to all the people I want to tell or find my purpose, not just my existence, in retirement.

Presently, I consider consequences of my actions more than ever, probably so that I can have a longer life. Cut back on salt, exercise, drive carefully, take your meds, etc. -- all of this I should have been doing throughout my life, but I realize their importance the closer I get to the end. 

John Keats is a famous poet, but not because he lived a long time. He died at age 26. Maybe because he knew he was going to die young, he crammed the most he could into accomplishing what he wanted.

I have accomplished a lot in my life, but it's not enough. I don't want the end of my life to be "stand[ing] alone, ... Till love and fame to nothingness do sink." I'd rather follow the instructions of another poet, Dylan Thomas, who said we should "not go gentle into that good night," but "rage, rage against the dying of the light." 

So, rage on like Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes. Toowanda!