When I have fears that I may cease to be by John Keats

This poem was sent in a letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, dated 31 January 1818. It was first published in Richard Monckton Milnes’s 1848 biography of Keats. It has since become one of the poet’s most famous compositions.

The ‘fair creature of an hour’ is believed to be the same unidentified woman addressed in ‘Fill for me a brimming bowl’ and ‘Time’s sea hath been’.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d 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.