Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Keats and the Kindred Fear

John Keats is one of my favorite poets, in part because I know the ache in his poetry is tied to the brief urgency of his life. His father died in a horse-riding accident when he was only eight, and later his mother and younger brother died of tuberculosis. He also caught the disease and died at the young age of twenty-five. Yet what he accomplished still dazzles the minds of starry-eyed English majors everywhere.

But beyond the lust for life, there is also a very familiar fear threading some of his lines; the fear of failure, of never finishing, of a blank emptiness haunting Keats as his time comes to a swift close:  

  When I have fears that I may cease to be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pil├Ęd books, in charactery,
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred 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 would dare to say that every writer has known this same, kindred fear at some point. Somehow, knowing that Keats felt that yawning pit of despair but still inked his way out gives me courage to keep on inking on. I've lived almost nine years longer than Keats so far,  and I want to make each precious additional year on this spinning marble count for something. But like love and fame, I will sink one day, too, along with everyone else. I  just hope I can catch a few of those "huge cloudy symbols of a high romance" first and pin them to a page, no matter how ephemeral. For in the end, aren't all the people we know, and the stories we've heard, a "fair creature of an hour"? Time doesn't let us keep them. So we reach for each other, so we share tales, passing hearts and ink likes sparks in the dark that would be nothingness.