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When I have fears that I may cease to be

When I have fears that I may cease to be


by John Keats

Lines 12-14 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 12-14

[…] —then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

  • If you know anything about sonnets, you probably know that they are fourteen lines long and usual have a "turn," a point in the poem that signals a major reversal in the thoughts or desires that shaped the first few lines of the poem. Oftentimes the turn occurs around line 8 or 9.
  • Keats actually starts his turn in line twelve. Don't worry, we'll talk more about that in our "Form and Meter" section.
  • Keats has spent a good deal of time thinking about fame, writing, and desire, as well as the possibilities and impossibilities of love. Now, though, he takes a step back and scopes out the "wide world." This, folks, is a key Romantic move. You could almost write up a formula for all Romantic poetry based upon it:
    1. Speaker gets caught up in tumultuous, overwhelming, passionate desires.
    2. Speaker goes off alone to contemplate nature.
    3. Speaker realizes that all his/her desires are petty and small – especially when they're compared to the scope of the outside world.
  • See? Keats follows this formula exactly. You could almost say that he wrote it himself. In fact, we think we will.

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