When I Have Fears Questions and Answers
by John Keats

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Comment on the imagery of the poem "When I Have Fears" by Keats. Imagery.

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In "When I Have Fears," Keats is afraid he will die before he can fully experience love and before he can fully develop as a writer. In line 4, the "full ripen'd grain" represents the fully ripe, artistically developed ideas in his poetry. He also hopes to be prolific, noting his wish to have piles of books before he dies. (The "charactry" are characters or letters of the alphabet). 

The "magic hand of chance" is his writing hand. He fears that he might die before he can develop his imagination enough to adequately "trace" the "huge cloudy symbols of a high romance." Here, the speaker (Keats himself) is blatantly saying that nature is symbolic of romantic ideas and nature is one of the muses of the poet; that is to say the poet's contemplation of nature can provoke the imagination which can make his poetry come alive. 

In the final four lines, he considers if he does not experience love nor develop himself as a poet, that it would be as if this love and fame will sink into the water while he stands hopeless and alone on the shore. 

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arielaeronaut | Student

John Keats' poem 'When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be' is a beautifully-written sonnet which powerfully expresses the poet's anguish over the likelihood of his own impending death. However, his theme is also thoroughly universal, since many people fear not having enough time to do everything they wish to. His selection of imagery focuses on the natural world, highlighting the cyclical nature of time:

Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
The full ripened grain alludes to wheat which has been cut down by a scythe - wielded, in traditional imagery, by the black-cloaked figure of Death. The ripeness of the grain also symbolises being able to reach the full potential of one's lifetime, which the speaker fears being snatched away from him.
Keats refers to 'the night's starred face', using personification to humanise and thereby make vulnerable even such an abstract concept as night. 'The magic hand of chance' alludes to the air of fatefulness which hangs over the poem, evoking a disembodied force treating Life and Death as a game, and connected to the scythe imagery hinted at previously. This air of unreality is compounded by the use of the phrase 'faery power/ Of unreflecting love', suggesting the presence of a world beyond the visible.
When the speaker at last stands alone 'on the shore of the wide world', an evocative image is created of the frailty of humankind juxtaposed against the vast, unforgiving mystery of nature. Lapped by the indecipherable force of the waves, the speaker is forced to surrender his mortal desire to control outcomes, and to accept that he cannot escape his ultimate fate. Keats' use of imagery to enhance his theme in this poem is what makes it so memorable and haunting, even centuries after its composition.