Tag Archives: The Human Seasons

Poetry Review: John Keats, The Human Seasons

25 Feb

There’s a boring way to read “The Human Seasons” having the four seasons represent youth, adulthood, old age, and death.  However, even by Keats’s time that metaphor was growing whiskers, and it really leaves this poem without any point.  The way I prefer to read this poem is having it be about the seasons of ideas.

I get this way of reading by Keats emphasizing that these seasons are “in the mind of man.”  Now we can either take that to be taken by people’s point of view, or four seasons that live in our minds, all constantly shifting and growing.

We start with “lusty spring, when fancy clear,/Takes in all beauty with an easy span.”  This is the birth of ideas, with concepts such as ease, creation, clarity, fancy (as in loose thinking not embroidered underpants).  This idea is something taken in from the outside world–the tremble of a leaf, or reflections in a pool of water, having the things around us have an influence.

Then summer when he “chews the honied cud of his fair spring thoughts/till, in his soul dissolved, the come to be/part of himself.”  Here the taking in part has ended, and meditating on this idea becomes the focus.  The creator takes the outside world and channels it into himself.  Notice how this form of thinking is very different from the ideals of the scientific method where the individual is supposed to remain separate from the data she is observing.   The chewing cud image also brings in mind of a slow form of thinking, of wearing things down in slow digestion.

In Autumn the idea is completely cut off from the world–I see this being the time where action happens, that book is written, those paintings finished.  Where time is spent in “havens of repose, when his tired wings/ are folded up, and he is content to look/on mists in idleness: to let fair things/pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.”  His idea takes up his whole mind, he only sees the mists and is no longer even sees the outside world beyond the idea.

And then winter “of pale misfeature.”  Which he must remember “lest he forget his mortal nature.”  Winter is blank white nothing.  Once an idea goes out in the world, the mind goes into a blank space that holds nothing.  The warning in this line has to do with a general warning about art–part of its purpose is to be finished and to go out in the world, lest it never be done.  There must be a point where all works must be let go to do what they will, and for the creator, that idea is dead, because it is finished.

What strikes me the most about this poem is the passivity involved.  Never do you see the individual striving, pushing–but observing, at length, at ease, restfully.  The interesting part is how, with all this activity, everything fades to white in the end.