Skip to content

Poetry By Heart: “When I Have Fears” by John Keats

December 16, 2014

I know you’re supposed to fall in love with Keats when you’re a teenager, but I was always too busy with novels and short stories to have a poetry phase. And so, as I begin to finally explore the poets, I thought it would be as well to begin with some obvious choices, ones that are frequently referenced in the books I read. I have an affection for sonnets as well, especially as they’re so much trickier to manage in English than Italian. And in light of my post yesterday, this Keats poem feels right, especially as he did die so young. I have not memorised it quite yet; it will be this week’s project.













“When I Have Fears” by John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
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.

I have a bit of spare spending money, and I’d like to buy a poetry anthology or two (…or three…). Ideally, I’d like one with a solid grounding of the touchstone classics mixed with lesser known but still good older poems (in a perfect world it would also acknowledge and try redress the limits of a canon built from centuries of white, male privilege) and a more contemporary one with a significant amount of women and poets of colour. An international one wouldn’t go amiss either, of course. Any suggestions? I’d rather flip through physical books than use the internet to come across poetry, as silly as that likely sounds. My list currently includes A Book of Luminous Things, The New Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1950, and Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, so it clearly is in need of a few more additions.

Here’s the photo credit for that beautiful night sky. That’s something I’d love to learn to do this upcoming year; when I was in the Amazon and later in the high rural Andes, the sky and stars simply engulfed me with their splendour, although they resisted my camera. Living in a city, and a cloudy one at that, is not as conducive to star gazing, but I’m haunted enough by those memories to wish to become more knowledgable of “the night’s starr’d face.”

12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2014 8:19 pm

    Poetry, I’m afraid to say, is largely beyond me. I’ve sat down people and had them explain it to me, to the point of cornering a poetry professor in college to try and grok it. (He sent me away with Polish poems, which I almost got, but never quite managed.)

    I know how you feel about light exposure in photography. There are so many beautiful night skies I’ve wanted to take photos of, but my camera simply can’t take it in. There’s a technique to it.

    • December 18, 2014 5:35 pm

      I only recently began connecting with poetry, so I understand completely!

      I’m pretty sure my camera could manage to get the photos if I figured out how; it’s to do with time lapse, right? I just wish I’d learned before my time in the Amazon! Oh well; I’ll just have to return one of these days. :)

  2. December 16, 2014 10:19 pm

    The Norton Introduction to Poetry is what you want for a sampling of everything.

    • December 18, 2014 5:35 pm

      Thnx Jeanne! That’s pricey, but I suppose it works out to pennies for each poem, hehe.

  3. December 17, 2014 1:53 pm

    ^^ Or The Norton Anthology of Poetry. It starts with the ancient stuff like Beowulf, right through to the modern poets. It’s very heavy though (I carried it to class for four years and it made me very familiar with its weight) if that’s a consideration for you.

    • December 18, 2014 5:36 pm

      Hmmm. Weight is a consideration Elana, although not as much of one as it would be if it were a novel, as I only read 1 poem at a time & only in the comfort of my apartment! But thanks for the warning. :)

  4. December 17, 2014 7:17 pm

    I have no recommendations for anthologies of poetry, but for modern stuff and diversity, try the Random Poem feature at When I get into a poetry-reading kick, that’s where I go to discover new stuff. That’s where I discovered my lovely June Jordan!

    • December 18, 2014 5:37 pm

      I can’t find the feature on the website! Feeling dunce-like now. But I will read some June Jordan at least. :)

  5. December 18, 2014 7:01 am

    I just bought an anthology called “Poetry by heart” and according to the introduction it tries to have both classics and newer poems. I don’t know how many are truly more unknown ones, since i’m not a native and my knowledge of poetry starts and ends with Shakespeare and Yeats, but I liked the ones I read. The book is apparently based off of a school-recital competition and a website ( How many poets of color there are I can’t tell, but there are quite a few women at least. You can even listen to some of the poems on the website.

    • December 18, 2014 5:38 pm

      Oh thank you Ninibo! And your knowledge of poetry sounds more extensive than mine. ;)

  6. Jenny permalink
    December 18, 2014 11:10 am

    I like Garrison Keillor’s anthologies from his work at the Writer’s Almanac. He sticks to modern poetry for the bulk of it, but includes a healthy dose of the classics (Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth, etc.) The choices are surprisingly diverse and pretty much always enjoyable.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: