In the two poems below, Keats and Longfellow reflect on similar concerns. Read the poems carefully. Then write an essay in which you compare and contrast the two poems, analyzing the poetic techniques each writer uses to explore his particular situation.
“When I Have Fears” -John Keats (1818)
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd 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 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.Poem 2:
“Mezzo Cammin*” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1842)
Written at Boppard on the Rhine August 25, 1842,
Just Before Leaving for Home
Half of my life is gone, and I have let
The years slip from me and have not fulfilled
The aspiration of my youth, to build
Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
But sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights,—
A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights,—
And hear above me on the autumnal blast
The cataract** of Death far thundering from the heights.
*from the first line of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” (“Midway upon the journey of our life”).
**A large waterfall
BIG QUESTION: Compare and contrast the two poems and the two writers’ situations.
Compare: Both poets are concerned with their accomplishments in life as well as their inevitable deaths.
Contrast: Keats’ focuses on his future aspirations — such as fame, love and success — that he’ll eventually have to miss. On the other hand, Longfellow regrets that he has traded so many opportunities in his past to maintain a relatively “safe” life.
(Devices used/worth noting: personification, figurative language, tone, structure)
Thesis: Both Keats and Longfellow address their fear of a life gone by too fast through poetic techniques, but while Keats’ poem laments the missed opportunities of the future, Longfellow regrets everything he’s failed to fulfill in the past.
Topic Sentence 1: The poems both emphasize the ephemeral lives of humans and their glory in the face of our inevitable deaths.
Figurative Language: Impending death
Metaphors Longfellow: a city in the twilight Similes Keats: "Hold like rich garners"
Imagery: the Glory of the past
Keats: Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance Longfellow: A city in the twilight dim and vast, With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights
Topic Sentence 2: However, the tones of poems reveal two different perspectives on the nature of time and death.
Personification: Keats (wistful) | Longfellow(dark)
Keats: When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face Longfellow:The cataracts of Death far thundering from the heights.
Structure: KEATS (retains hope for future) | LONGFELLOW(Despair)
Keats: —then on the shore Of the wide world I stand alone, and think Till love and fame to nothingness do sink. Longfellow: And hear above me on the autumnal blast The cataract2 of Death far thundering from the heights.