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Reader’s Den

Reader's Den and National Poetry Month: Discussing Keats


Week One: Isn’t it Romantic?

Welcome to Poetry Month with the Reader’s Den! Instead of the normal online book discussion this month, each Wednesday we'll post a poem for consideration and discussion. Feel free to use the questions below the poem as a springboard. Post your insights and impressions in the comments, and be sure to check back later in the week to see what others thought.

John Keats, 1795-1821., Digital ID 1547458, New York Public LibraryWe begin with a poem by John Keats, composed in the year 1818.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact'ry,
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.

Discussion questions:

  1. What are the narrator’s strongest fears?
  2. Grain, stars, clouds, shadows, shore… why all the nature imagery?
  3. How would you interpret the concluding lines?

Continue exploring this poem with a glossary and more:


glean’d (from the verb to glean): To gather or pick up ears of corn which have been left by the reapers.

teeming: Abundantly productive; fertile, prolific; abounding; swarming; crowded.

charact’try: Expression of thought by symbols or characters; the characters or symbols collectively.

garner: A storehouse for corn, granary.

relish: A taste or flavour; the distinctive taste of anything.

faery: Of or belonging to ‘faerie’, resembling fairyland, beautiful and unsubstantial, visionary, unreal.

Definitions printed from Oxford English Dictionary Online, copyright © Oxford University Press, 2009.

I’m all for diving right into discussion when it comes to poetry, but for those who’d like a sliver of context, Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry Online defines Keats’s era of Romantic poetry this way: “Formed by the ideals of liberty and equality which inspired the French and American revolutions, Romanticism sought a return to nature and the goodness of man, the rediscovery of the artist as the supremely individual creator, the development of nationalistic pride, and the exaltation of the senses and emotion over reason and the intellect.”

Want to relish more in the faery power of Romantic poets and poetry? The web holds rich garners of Romanticism resources:

Romantic Circles is a website that provides scholarly resources for the study of Romantic-period literature and culture.

RaVoN: Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net

North American Society for the Study of Romanticism

Happy National Poetry Month from the Reader’s Den. Join us again next Wednesday!


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

The last two lines are the

The last two lines are the "turn," the moment where the focus shifts -- in this case, to that oh-so-Romantic notion of sublimity. The narrator's been worrying about dying because he might not have a chance to write everything he wants to write or experience everything he wants to experience or love for as long as he wants to love ... but that fear makes him realize the vastness of the world, which is awe-inspiring enough to make all his worries irrelevant.

all the nature imagery also

all the nature imagery also adds to the feeling of time passing. its harvest imagery, grains gleaned and ripened. beautiful poem though, about everything we all fear most.

Keats is expressing the fear

Keats is expressing the fear that many experience once in their lifetime, that they will not truly live. That they will never fall in love, that they will not see their dreams fulfilled before they die. At the time of writing this poem he feels isolated and alone in the world because he is not loved, nor does he love anyone.

The Poetry of Keats

There is something very profound and extremely sad about his poetry. It seems that in fame and success, the glory of being a renowned poet, he found no solace. I believe he would have sacrificed all of his talent and literary fortune to have found someone in his life to love. It is unfortunate to know that one who wrote so eloquently about emotion seemed so deprived of the wonder of it. Geraldine Nathan

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