The Seasons (Thomson)

The Seasons is a series of four poems written by the Scottish author James Thomson. The first part, Winter, was published in 1726, and the completed poem cycle appeared in 1730.[1]

The poem was extremely influential, and stimulated works by John Christopher Smith, Joseph Haydn, Thomas Gainsborough and J. M. W. Turner among many others.[1]


Thomson was educated first at the Parish school of Southdean then at Jedburgh Grammar School and Edinburgh University where he was a member of "The Grotesques" literary club; some of his early poems were published in the Edinburgh Miscellany of 1720. Seeking a larger stage, he went to London in 1725, and became the tutor of Thomas Hamilton (who became the 7th Earl of Haddington) in Barnet. There he was able to begin Winter, the first of his four Seasons.[2]

Blank verse had been considered more of an interesting toy than anything useful to poetry, despite John Milton's epic-scale Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained half a century earlier.[3]


The poem was published one season at a time, Winter in 1726, Summer in 1727, Spring in 1728 and Autumn only in the complete edition of 1730.[2] Thomson borrowed Milton's Latin-influenced vocabulary and inverted word order, with phrases like "in convolution swift". He extended Milton's narrative use of blank verse to use it for description and to give a meditative feeling.[4] The critic Raymond Dexter Havens called Thomson's style pompous and contorted, remarking that Thomson seemed to have avoided "calling things by their right names and speaking simply, directly, and naturally".[4]


The lengthy blank verse poem, reflecting on the landscape of the countryside, was highly influential and much liked for at least a century after its writing.[3] Especially lavish editions were produced between 1830 and 1870 in Britain and America.[5]

A dispute over the publishing rights to The Seasons gave rise to two important legal decisions (Millar v. Taylor; Donaldson v. Beckett) in the history of copyright. In 1750, the London bookseller Andrew Millar reprinted the 1746 edition of The Works of James Thomson vol. 1. and included a prefatory note that emphasized the author’s preference for the 1746 edition. Millar may have referred to the 1744 edition because it was the first expanded version of Thomson’s famous poem, it sold quickly, and it may have helped to clarify for Millar that he owned the highly valuable copyright of this book in perpetuity.[6]

Thomson's The Seasons was translated into German by Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1745). This translation formed the basis for a work with the same title by Gottfried van Swieten, which became the libretto for Haydn's oratorio The Seasons.[7]

Artists such as Thomas Medland, Anker Smith and John Neagle (1792) created engravings to accompany the poems.[8] A bathing scene from Summer inspired paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, William Etty (Musidora: The Bather 'At the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed') and Johann Sebastian Bach the Younger.

The piece was translated into French by the naturalist Joseph-Philippe-François Deleuze (1753–1835).

Oscar Wilde included this poem, only half-sarcastically, in a list of ‘books not to read at all’.[9]


  1. ^ a b Sambrook, 2004
  2. ^ a b "Local History Notes: James Thomson 1700-1748" (PDF). London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  3. ^ a b "James Thomson". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b Shaw, Robert Burns (2007). Blank Verse: A Guide to Its History and Use. Ohio University Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-0-8214-1757-7.
  5. ^ Stevenson, Louise L. "The Transatlantic Travels of James Thomson's The Seasons and its Baggage of Material Culture, 1730-1870" (PDF). American Antiquarian. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  6. ^ "The manuscripts, Letter from Andrew Millar to Thomas Cadell, 16 July, 1765. Andrew Millar Project. University of Edinburgh". Retrieved 2016-06-03.
  7. ^ "Haydn Oratorios - The Creation & The Seasons". Early Music World. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  8. ^ "James Thomson's The Seasons: Autumn". Art of the Print. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  9. ^ "Meet Sir John Lubbock, Godfather of the must-read listicle". The Independent. 2019-05-23. Retrieved 2019-05-25.


Further reading

  • Jung, Sandro. James Thomson’s The Seasons, Print Culture, and Visual Interpretation, 1730–1842. Lehigh University Press, 2015.

External links

Texts on Wikisource:

James Thomson (poet, born 1700)

James Thomson (c. 11 September 1700 – 27 August 1748) was a Scottish poet and playwright, known for his poems The Seasons and The Castle of Indolence, and for the lyrics of "Rule, Britannia!".

The Seasons

The Seasons may refer to:

In literature:

The Seasons (poem), a Lithuanian poem by Kristijonas Donelaitis

The Seasons (Thomson), four long poems by James ThomsonIn mythology:

The Seasons, also known as the HoraeIn music and dance:

The Seasons (Haydn), an oratorio by Joseph Haydn

The Seasons (Tchaikovsky), a set of character pieces for piano by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The Seasons (ballet), by Marius Petipa to the music of Alexander Glazunov

The Seasons (Cage), a ballet by Merce Cunningham to music of John Cage

Les Saisons (The Seasons), a ballet by Jean-Baptiste Lully

"The Seasons", a song on Skynyrd's First and... Last (1978) by Lynyrd SkynyrdIn television:

The Seasons (TV series), a Hong Kong television drama series

Topographical poetry

Topographical poetry or loco-descriptive poetry is a genre of poetry that describes, and often praises, a landscape or place. John Denham's 1642 poem "Cooper's Hill" established the genre, which peaked in popularity in 18th-century England. Examples of topographical verse date, however, to the late classical period, and can be found throughout the medieval era and during the Renaissance. Though the earliest examples come mostly from continental Europe, the topographical poetry in the tradition originating with Denham concerns itself with the classics, and many of the various types of topographical verse, such as river, ruin, or hilltop poems were established by the early 17th century. Alexander Pope's "Windsor Forest" (1713) and John Dyer's "Grongar Hill" (1726/7) are two other often mentioned examples. In following centuries, Matthew Arnold's "The Scholar Gipsy" (1853) praised the Oxfordshire countryside, and W. H. Auden's "In Praise of Limestone" (1948) used a limestone landscape as an allegory.

Subgenres of topographical poetry include the country house poem, written in 17th-century England to compliment a wealthy patron, and the prospect poem, describing the view from a distance or a temporal view into the future, with the sense of opportunity or expectation. When understood broadly as landscape poetry and when assessed from its establishment to the present, topographical poetry can take on many formal situations and types of places. Kenneth Baker identifies 37 varieties and compiles poems from the 16th through the 20th centuries—from Edmund Spenser to Sylvia Plath—correspondent to each type, from "Walks and Surveys", to "Mountains, Hills, and the View from Above", to "Violation of Nature and the Landscape", to "Spirits and Ghosts".Common aesthetic registers of which topographical poetry make use include pastoral imagery, the sublime, and the picturesque. These latter two registers subsume imagery of rivers, ruins, moonlight, birdsong, and clouds, peasants, mountains, caves, and waterscapes.

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