The Seasons: Spring "To Teach The Young Idea How To Shoot"

James Thomson

"To Teach The Young Idea How To Shoot"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Thomson, an English poet, was a forerunner of romanticism. At the time when he wrote his long work, The Seasons, neoclassicism was the current style in literature. Thomson introduced a number of romantic qualities into his poetry which were then unique; among these were a love of nature, sensuous imagery, a humanitarian impulse, and touches of fantasy. He is one of the founders of nature poetry as a literary form. In The Seasons he also reintroduced blank verse as an acceptable medium of poetic expression and helped to establish the tradition of Milton as a strong influence in the development of poetry in England. The Seasons is the first nature poem of any length in the English language; it was published over a period of time, from 1726 to 1730. The four sections, though not devoted to nature exclusively, never diverge from it altogether. "Spring" begins with an invocation; Thomson sings of the new grass, the flowers, and the soft rain. Winter is gone at last, though the change is not yet complete. Presently the sun and air grow warmer; the streams become torrents and the grip of the frost is finally broken. Crops are sown. "Ye generous Britons, venerate the plough!" is Thomson's exhortation, as he considers the blessings with which nature has endowed the land. Leaves appear on the trees, and the hills turn green. It is a precarious season, and the dangers of gale, frost, insect plagues, and wet summers are yet to be passed. But in the year of the poet's description none of these tragedies occurs; all things grow and flourish. After a brief digression concerning man's disastrous abandonment of his happy pastoral estate, Thomson returns to the progress of the season, and we have a glimpse of the poet himself. The spring runoff has ended, and the streams are clear: "now is the time,/ While yet the darkbrown water aids the guile,/ To tempt the trout. The well-dissembled fly,/ The rod fine-tapering with elastic spring,/ Snatch'd from the hoary steed the floating line,/ And all thy slender watry stores prepare./ But let not on thy hook the tortur'd worm,/ Convulsive, twist in agonizing folds;/ Which, by rapacious hunger swallow'd deep,/ Gives, as you tear it from the bleeding breast/ Of the weak helpless uncomplaining wretch,/ Harsh pain and horror to the tender hand." Thomson now abandons the joys of fishing and takes up the profusion of spring flowers and of birds; he discourses on the joys of love and notes the mating of all living things. He ends with what is essentially a benediction:

. . . those whom love cements in holy faith,
And equal transport, free as Nature live,
Disdaining fear. What is the world to them,
Its pomp, its pleasure, and its nonsense all!
Who in each other clasp whatever fair
High fancy forms, and lavish hearts can wish;
Something than beauty dearer, should they look
Or on the mind, or mind-illumin'd face;
Truth, goodness, honour, harmony, and love,
The richest bounty of indulgent heav'n.
Meantime a smiling offspring rises round,
And mingles both their graces. . . .
Then infant reason grows apace, and calls
For the kind hand of an assiduous care.
Delightful task! to rear the tender thought,
To teach the young idea how to shoot,
To pour the fresh instruction o'er the mind. . . .