Reading through 'The Seasons'

Before William Wordsworth, the great poet of nature in the English language was James Thomson (1700–1748). Thomson was born in the Scottish Borders and educated in Edinburgh, but instead of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a minister in the Church of Scotland he moved to London in hopes of making a career as a writer. He had some success as a playwright, but his greatest work was The Seasons, a long poem about nature’s seasonal cycle, full of wonder, scientific curiosity, and philosophical reflection.

Carly Watson, Departmental Lecturer in English Literature has created a new poetry blog,' Thinking Through Verse', which shines a spotlight on this often-overlooked masterpiece.

The Seasons was one of the most popular poems of the eighteenth century, reprinted almost every year in Britain and Ireland from 1730 onwards, published in America, and translated into French and German. Few people now have time to read all 5,423 lines of this monumental poem, but part of the beauty of The Seasons is that it doesn’t have to be read as a whole. The poem is a seasonal miscellany—each of its four parts, corresponding to the four seasons, is a collection of descriptions of natural phenomena and thoughts on a range of topics inspired by the season. You can dip into the poem and find a description of how frost forms, or a vision of the golden age of human history, or instructions on fishing. Carly has been posting short commentaries on sections of the poem on her blog, exploring some of the sources that inspired Thomson and reflecting on themes that remain resonant today. Please visit and subscribe to 'Thinking Through Verse'.


Image: The sun moving through the signs of the zodiac. Detail of a 1730 illustration of James Thomson’s ‘Summer’, drawn by William Kent and engraved by Nicolas Tardieu. © The Trustees of the British Museum, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Published 25 May 2022