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John Keats

When I have fears

Easier questions to cut your teeth on!

Lorraine Knickelbein
Grens High School
Updated: 18 January 2014
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Keats, whose mother and brother had died of TB, was also diagnosed with the disease.

In this sonnet, which is a presentiment of his early death, the poet reflects sadly on all the joys and opportunities of life he will miss out on -- like writing and romance. However, in the couplet he accepts this loss.


John Keats was born in London in 1795, the son of a hostler. Both his parents died while he was still young -- his mother of tuberculosis. He was thereafter brought up by his grandmother who quickly made him an apprentice physician.

He was still only in his late teens when he discovered that he too had caught TB and his younger brother, who was in his care, soon died of it. In order to escape the disease, Keats moved to the sunnier and drier climate of Italy.

There was no escape for him, however, and the poet died in 1821. He was then just 25 years of age. He nevertheless bequeathed us a gargantuan amount of poetry written with an amazing maturity for one so young.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain."
  • Identify and explain the figure of speech in the first line of this poem. (3)

[Need help?]

  • List the poet's fears. How does he overcome them? (5)

[Need help?]

  • Identify and explain the METAPHOR in "Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain". (5)

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  • How does the word "teeming" reflect the poet's state of mind? Where is the concept of "teeming" perpetuated in the poem? (5)

[Need help?]

"Before high-piléd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain."
  • Explain the effectiveness of the SIMILE. (5)

[Need help?]

"When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance."
  • What does the archaic (old-fashioned) word "behold" mean? Identify and explain the figure of speech in the first line above. (3)

[Need help?]

  • What do the "cloudy symbols" and "high romance" refer to? (3)

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"And think that I will never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance."
  • Explain exactly what it is that Keats fears. (3)

[Need help?]

"And when I feel, fair creature of an hour."
  • Seen in the context of the sonnet, do these words imply a short-term relationship? Explain your answer. (2)

[Need help?]

Does this sonnet deal with Keats's fear of death? Does he fear ageing? What is the main theme of this sonnet? (4)

[Need help?]

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See also:
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