The Human Seasons

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 honey’d 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.

John Keats (1795–1821).

Source: (22.03.06)


The poem “The Human Seasons” was written by John Keats at Teignmouth and enclosed it in a letter to Benjamin Bailey dated 13 March 1818. It was later included in his “Poems” published in 1819. (

The first two verses explain the contents of the poem and introduce the theme: he compares the four seasons of a natural year with the several stages of human life, also a natural process.

The main ideas of the poem are distributed in four steps, one for each stanza and also corresponding to each season of the year: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

The meaning is very clearly presented, as we can experience nowadays, that life is brief, temporary and that each period in our life has different feelings and thoughts.

In the first quatrain Keats introduces the topic. The way he expresses it is in two affirmative clauses; he doesn’t use any comparative particles, but the meaning is evident. Lifetime is a natural cycle, we are born, we grow up, we reproduce ourselves and die. In the same stanza Spring is described as very short and happy. This season is the first stage of the year and it’s compared to the first period of our lives: childhood. In that time everything is beautiful and “lusty”. Keats doesn’t mention any problem in this period.

The second quatrain refers to Summer and its influence on our feelings. Summer is the best time in our lives, we are still young, but as Keats mentions, we “ruminate thoughts”, that is, we have had some experience and we are able to think about what we did in our childhood. This is the so called maturity age. These thoughts can only be fed by sweet, tender childhood memories. Through these thoughts men can be totally happy, “unto heaven”. The age line for Summer could be from the 20s to the 40s.

Autumn covers the third stanza and includes spiritual experiences. In this stage human beings are mature, their tiredness is reflected in their acts. The words used are calm and relaxing: “quiet coves”, “closed wings”, “mist in idleness”, “threshold brook”. What the poet tries to express is that we have to admit that we are getting old, we have to be satisfied of our deeds and we just let time pass by.

Only in the last two verses Winter is mentioned. Death just happens once, it is everybody’s destiny and nobody can run away from it. The mortal nature of men is described here as “pale misfeature”. There are two different ways of interpreting it, on the one hand men grows old so beauty and health get reduced, but on the other hand we can imagine that it can be the description of the deformed body after death as everybody will end the same.

Keats died when he was only 25 so we cannot describe it as the poet’s experience because he couldn’t feel like an old person but maybe these years were intense and lived as a long lifetime. Independently of this, Keats doesn’t use any kind of humorous or ironic language. The poem is very objective. It is a comparison with Nature and its development is based on “facts” that continually occur.

Based on the analysis of the structure of the poem we can appreciate which life period is more important for Keats. Apart form the introduction, each season has its own length inside the poem. The extension of each part of the year is related to the relevance of the period that corresponds to human life. Autumn is the longest one, which reinforces the meaning of waiting for death.

The imagery is very clearly exposed: Spring describes childhood, Summer maturity, Autumn, when men wait the final moment and Winter the death.

When I first read the poem I was impressed because of its objectivity, no feelings are expressed, it is factual. The poem is addressed to a man but the addressee is humanity. I also liked the structure; direct at the beginning, then more elaborate. I totally agree with the poet. The poem is like a guide of life, taking part in daily problems and focusing on spiritual sensations and feelings.

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