John Keats, How I Love Thee


I am a great lover of the English poet John Keats (1795-1821) and this painting, by William Hilton in The National Portrait Gallery, has long been my favorite image of Keats. The studious look, both at attention and far off, the open book, the seemingly careless dress of one not long for this world- and in possession of thoughts far beyond it, are so quintessentially "Keats" to me, that I can't help but sigh, grab his collected works, and imagine myself heading out of doors to some quiet place where I might be still and hear his voice. Keats is the poet I read when I want to feel - every word he writes is both image and sense - and perhaps this is why he is the poet I turn to when everything seems fleeting, transient, wonderful, and strange, all at the same time. Below is one of my favorite Keats poems, and the one I always recite to myself when I think that something is far more important that it is, or that life is too short.

'When I have fears that I may cease to be" 
                         John Keats
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled 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 I 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.

Want more? The Complete Poems of John Keats

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