Study Guide

When I have fears that I may cease to be Lines 5-8

By John Keats

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Lines 5-8

Lines 5-6

When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,

  • Now Keats' speaker is gazing up at the night sky – and finding in the clouds all of the "symbols" of high romance.
  • Wait a second… love in the clouds? Well, this particular kind of romance isn't exactly your run of the mill everyday love. It's elevated ("high") romance. If we were feeling flowery, we'd call it celestial. Or heavenly. It's the stuff of chivalric legend – the sweeping tales of romance and brave knights in shining armor and all that fine stuff than never really seems to happen on a first date. (Or, come to think of it, any date at all. Sigh.)
  • We're not saying that Keats' version of romance is impossible. It's just pretty clear that he sees the world through some pretty heavily rose-colored glasses. After all, he's not looking for love from the people around him. Nope. He's looking up in the clouds. (And when was the last time that you found good lovin' up there?)

Lines 7-8

And feel that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;

  • Oh, wait. Two lines of optimistic dreaming were, it turns out, a few lines too many. We're back to thinking about death here.
  • Also, we're once again diving headfirst into some seriously imaginative language. Tracing the shadows of romance with the "magic hand of chance"? What does that even mean? (We have to admit, we're beginning to worry about Keats' ability to win over the ladies.)
  • Here's a rough translation of what's going on here: Any sort of love or romance is dependent on a healthy dose of good luck (or, in Keats' language, "chance"). It's like that Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors (or John Cusack in Serendipity) – you never know how one chance encounter or one small decision will shape your love life.
  • We're guessing that Keats is actually pretty excited about the randomness of love. It's that randomness which makes things exciting, right. That's why it's rather sad that he thinks he'll die before experiencing this kind of love.

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