To Human Seasons: by John Keats - Summary & Analysis

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Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring's honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

Summary and Analysis

      Published in 1819, this sonnet is intensely Shakespearean both in form and in spirit; it is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s passage about the seven ages of man in As You like It. By its form, it reminds us of the seventy-third sonnet of Shakespeare, and the final couplet has the peculiar ring of the Shakespearean close.

Summary

      To Human Seasons, there are four different seasons in a year, so there are four stages in the mind of man: (i) Youth with its clear fancy and susceptibility to beauty is the mind’s spring; (2) Manhood with its fondness for reflection is the summer of the human mind; (3) Middle Age with its indifference to lovely things and its fondness for a quiet life of the autumn of life; while (4) Old age, with its decay and infirmities is the winter.

Critical Analysis

      This review of the development of a man’s mind, or a poet’s mind, is typical of Keats. Indeed he did not live long enough to be able to speak from experience about middle age or old age, and a boy of twenty-four is hardly entitled to moralize about their Mentality. Tennyson, Browning and Wordsworth were all mentally vigorous and in lull exercise of their poetic powers at an advanced age, and did not reach a stage of seeing “pale misfeature’’ in the around them. The poem, however, is methodical like a school boy’s essay neatly divided into four paragraphs. It will be interesting to compare the thought with Shakespeare's "Seven Ages" and also with Wordsworth’s "Immortality Ode" in which he makes an attempt to show the changes that advancing years bring on the mind.

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