John Keats, one of the greatest English poets of the Romantic period, writes the
Shakespearian sonnet, “When I Have Fears” fueled by his fear of failure to achieve love
and fame within his self-predicted short lifespan. The majority of Keats’s odes, letters, and poems focus on the theme of death and Keats’s concern of dying before fulfilling his promise, however, “When I Have Fears” paints a more complex, personal, direct and introspective portrait of Keats’ anxiety (Brotter) . The reader should be aware that Keats suffered tragedy after tragedy as he watched his family disappear, some from battling tuberculosis and others for varied causes. On January, 31st of 1818, having already lost his mother and uncle to tuberculosis, caring for his dying brother Tom, and developing symptoms of the disease himself, John Keats writes a letter to his friend J.H Reynolds that includes his sonnet ,“When I Have Fears”. Keats mentions that the letter was meant to be a “serious poetical letter”, however, apologizes to Reynolds and carries on with incessant panic about his condition. Faced with realization of his own mortality, he also includes in his letter a fifty-line toast to golden sunshine, to friendship, and to getting poetically drunk on "the glory and grace of Apollo" (King). Evidently, Keats gets the chilling feeling that his that life, like his mother‘s, father‘s, uncle’s and brother’s, would end soon. In fact, he requested the words, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water” to be in scripted on his tombstone and an engraved broken lyre to symbolize his unfulfilled aspirations (Stillinger 211). With two fears, the fear of his life being cut short and the fear of never receiving love, Keats, boosted with motivation, devoted the last three years of his life to rigorously writing poetry and racing against the ticking of his fate. He dreamed of being placed among the highest English poets and being recognized for his works, however, as he predicted, met an untimely death in 1821 before he could see it happen. Ironically, of the 25 years that the young poet lived, the last three years that he dedicated to writing were more than enough to earn him a place among the highest English poets. His hard work and poetic talent eventually received the attention it deserved in 1848 (Stillinger 216). In “When I Have Fears”, readers take a walk with Keats through his worries of an inevitably unfulfilled life and regrets of not being able to live his dreams and obtain love.
As an admirer of Shakespeare, Keats organizes the sonnet, “When I Have Fears”, with the Shakespearian rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG and sustains an iambic pentameter rhythm throughout its fourteen lines. He closely imitates the theme and structure of Shakespeare’s sonnet “Time‘s Scythe” and even structures three parallel quatrains presented by “When”, “When”, and “And when”(Hirst 82). (In “Time’s Scythe”, Shakespeare includes three lines introduced with “When” and five...