What is the theme of Spenser's "The Procession of the Seasons?"
"The Procession of the Seasons" uses personification to describe the sequence of seasons. Using personification, the sequence of seasons is mixed with a metaphor of the life of a person. So, in describing the seasons (from spring to winter), the speaker also describes the human life cycle.
Personification is a figure of speech in which events, ideas, animals, or objects are given human qualities. In the case of this poem, this use of personification serves a double role. It helps describe the passing of the seasons and in doing so, it reverses the metaphor as the seasons describe the passing time of life.
In the first stanza, the blooms and buds of spring are described. Then the speaker describes the spring personified, referring to the spring as he ("his"):
And in his hand a javelin he did bear,
And on his head, as fit for warlike stours,
The spring is the beginning of life for the flowers and plants. The spring personified is a young warrior or knight ready for battle.
The summer is dressed ("dight"), another personification (dressed) in green and light. Here the summer is a hunter, perhaps having settled down with a family to provide for. The hunter, not quite as young as the spring warrior, is sore when his hunting is done.
Autumn is harvest time when farmers collect the fruits of their labor. Like the farmer, the hunter has probably brought home food. The autumn holds a sickle in his hand to "reap the ripened fruits." The sickle is also a sign of death approaching.
The winter is cold and has a beard (personification). Having begun in spring with a javelin, a bow in summer, a sickle in autumn, he (winter) now has a staff, a sign of old age. Old as he is, he can barely hold the staff, "scarce his loosed limbs he was able to wield."