Keats: Alone in Love

March 2, 2019 by Essay Writer

John Keats’ poems “When I Have Fears” and “Bright Star” are remarkably similar, yet drastically different at the same time. The Shakespearean sonnets share rhyme scheme as well as subject matter, yet deal with different facets of the same topic. Each describes love as something extraordinarily important that one cannot live without, but neither reaches this conclusion until late in the poem.Both poems can be broken down to reveal the emotion rooted in the structure. “When I have Fears” makes excellent use of parallel construction. The first 12 lines are split into three sections, each consisting of the word “when” and an action: “When I have fears…” (1), “When I behold…” (5), and “When I feel…” (9). Keats breaks this construction only for the couplet at the end of the poem. In this manner, the speaker first explores his emotions, then realizes what their result is. “When I Have Fears” can also be broken down in another way. Rather than three quatrains and a couplet, it can be separated into an octave and a sestet. During the first eight lines Keats concentrates on musings, while during the final sestet he makes an address; the reader finds that it is to a “fair creature of an hour” (9) that he is speaking. Keats appears to be subscribing to a Shakespearean structure, but falling to a Petrarchan mold as a result of the speaker’s unstable emotion. “Bright Star,” likewise, is constructed in an octave followed by a sestet, with its volta yielding a change in perspective for both the speaker and the reader. Keats also resorts in this poem to musings until line 9, in which the subject matter turns to love and his lover. In fact, love is the subject of both poems, though neither mentions it until the final sestet. “When I Have Fears” focuses on the speaker’s fear of dying before he is able to capture the true nature of romance on paper or experience artistic creation. We learn in lines 9-14 that he has such fears because a lover has left him; he “shall never look upon thee more” (10). He is alone, and “Love and Fame to nothingness do sink” (14). The focus of the poem changes at the volta from the speaker to his lover, and describes the effect that she has on him. This is because love is subordinate to the speaker’s poetic aims, but central to his ability to reach them. “Bright Star” has a similar change at the volta; the focus of the poem changes from Keats’ appreciation of nature to his feelings for his “fair love” (10). While “When I Have Fears” waits until line 10 to reveal to person to whom the poet is speaking, “Bright Star” alerts the reader to the subject in the first line. The poem is addressed to a star, and the speaker concentrates on the wonderful aspects of the star until the final sestet, in which the focus changes, and the speaker describes the similarities between himself and the star.Keats’ deliberate word and punctuation choices help uncover hidden emotions. “When I Have Fears” centers on a loved one, who is not present. However, the repetition of the word “I” reveals that the poem is actually about the author and his reaction to the absence of love. The many breaks and pauses in the poem aid reveal the speaker’s dismay and intense emotion. There are a total of ten commas – mostly breaking up thoughts, rather than completing them – two semi-colons, and one dash, which is preceded by an exclamation point. The word “I” is used seven times in 14 lines. With this repetition and hesitant word placement, Keats deftly shows that the speaker’s mind is a jumble of unorganized thoughts. “Bright Star,” which contains 11 commas, uses them in a more pedestrian manner. The commas are often placed at the end of lines, so that they do not indicate a break in the speaker’s thoughts. There are four dashes, each carefully placed. The first dash, in line one, does not significantly change the meter of the poem. The other three dashes, all found in the last seven lines, show the speaker’s strong reaction to his own musings. They show that though he is not as “steadfast” or “unchangeable” (9) as the star, he still has those qualities when it comes to love. The final dash, in fact, precedes the poem’s last five words; it prepares the reader for the speaker’s claim that without love, he would die.One point of contrast between these two poems is the tone: “When I Have Fears” is a dark poem, reflecting on death and the loss of love. “Bright Star”, however, has a far lighter tone, covering subjects such as purification, innocence, and never-ending love. The two poems do, however, share a common ending. The couplets at the end of each poem deal with the speakers’ inability to exist without the presence of their loved ones. Together, “When I Have Fears” and “Bright Star” create a poetic arc; the latter begins where the former leaves off. The speaker of “When I Have Fears” frets over his ability to convey true romance and the absence of a loved one. It is only at the end of the poem that he is able to escape these fears. He is left utterly alone, and all that he has been thinking about disappears only to be re-engaged at the opening of “Bright Star”. Here, the speaker describes a star that he wishes he resembled, but this star is “not in lone splendor” (2), as the speaker of “When I Have Fears” finds himself. It is at the end of “Bright Star” that the arc is completed, and the speaker once again finds himself contemplating death in the absence of love.

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