I’VE WANTED TO TATTOO this line by John Keats on my body for a long time now: “Till Love and Fame to Nothingness do sink.” It’s the only line of poetry I’ve felt that way about, and it’s from his poem “When I Have Fears that I May Cease To Be,” which is my favorite love poem. There is a phrase in the sixth line, “a high romance,” that consistently floats through my consciousness and reminds me that all my poems are love poems, which makes me feel lucky.
Like any great poem about love, Keats’s poem is also about death. When I think of what I love I’m constantly reminded of how impermanent that something or someone is, and in the poem the speaker is thinking of how impermanent he is in relation to the world. Perhaps we all have this fear. And sometimes we feel it quite tangibly: someone dies, someone leaves us, someone oddly disappears from the inbox, the phone, the place in our lives where we’re used to having them, and so on, over and over again.
Keats was the first poet I read that made me understand that even love ends. For me, the ultimate love poem is the love poem that knows this, that knows love may not save us, that it may even ruin us, and yet we should continue to strive for it — because what else is there to do? Everything else seems wildly unimportant and untrue. Everything else is mere detail.
— Alex Dimitrov
John Keats, “When I Have Fears that I May Cease To Be”
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
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.