Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A cycle of four long poems in blank verse with a brief concluding hymn, The Seasons celebrates the magnificence and harmony of nature as a manifestation of the Supreme Being. It embodies literary, philosophical, and theological ideas characteristic of the eighteenth century, yet it also prefigures the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century, particularly in its depictions of storms and wilderness. It enjoyed extraordinary popularity and influence in both centuries, and its impressive, picturesque landscapes made it a favorite text for illustration.
The poem evolved gradually, beginning with a short piece called “Winter,” published in 1726. As he expanded and revised the work, James Thomson adopted the Georgics (c. 37-29 b.c.e.; English translation, 1589) of the ancient Roman poet Vergil as his literary model, finding there a precedent for his subject matter (nature), his four-part structure, and his elevated style. Standing in the middle ground between the pastoral and the epic, “georgic” verse was expected to use lofty diction in celebrating the earth’s bounty. Whereas pastoral poetry uses nature artificially as stage scenery for the philosophizing of urbane shepherds, georgic poetry draws inspiration from the noble labors of the farmer. Thomson by no means restricts himself to the farm, however; he seeks in untamed nature a special quality that fascinated his age: the “sublime,” the...
(The entire section is 1851 words.)
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