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James Thomson (1700-1748)

The Seasons: Winter

(excerpt)


              1     See, Winter comes to rule the varied year,
              2Sullen and sad, with all his rising train--
              3Vapours, and clouds, and storms. Be these my theme,
              4These, that exalt the soul to solemn thought
              5And heavenly musing. Welcome, kindred glooms!
              6Congenial horrors, hail! With frequent foot,
              7Pleas'd have I, in my cheerful morn of life,
              8When nurs'd by careless solitude I liv'd
              9And sung of Nature with unceasing joy,
            10Pleas'd have I wander'd through your rough domain;
            11Trod the pure virgin-snows, myself as pure;
            12Heard the winds roar, and the big torrent burst;
            13Or seen the deep-fermenting tempest brew'd
            14In the grim evening-sky. Thus pass'd the time,
            15Till through the lucid chambers of the south
            16Look'd out the joyous Spring--look'd out and smil'd.

...

            41     Now, when the cheerless empire of the sky
            42To Capricorn the Centaur-Archer yields,
            43And fierce Aquarius stains th' inverted year,
            44Hung o'er the farthest verge of heaven, the sun
            45Scarce spreads o'er ether the dejected day.
            46Faint are his gleams, and ineffectual shoot
            47His struggling rays in horizontal lines
            48Through the thick air; as cloth'd in cloudy storm,
            49Weak, wan, and broad, he skirts the southern sky;
            50And, soon descending, to the long dark night,
            51Wide-shading all, the prostrate world resigns.
            52Nor is the night unwish'd; while vital heat,
            53Light, life, and joy the dubious day forsake.
            54Meantime, in sable cincture, shadows vast,
            55Deep-ting'd and damp, and congregated clouds,
            56And all the vapoury turbulence of heaven
            57Involve the face of things. Thus Winter falls,
            58A heavy gloom oppressive o'er the world,
            59Through Nature shedding influence malign,
            60And rouses up the seeds of dark disease.
            61The soul of man dies in him, loathing life,
            62And black with more than melancholy views.
            63The cattle droop; and o'er the furrow'd land,
            64Fresh from the plough, the dun discolour'd flocks,
            65Untended spreading, crop the wholesome root.
            66Along the woods, along the moorish fens,
            67Sighs the sad genius of the coming storm;
            68And up among the loose disjointed cliffs
            69And fractur'd mountains wild, the brawling brook
            70And cave, presageful, sends a hollow moan,
            71Resounding long in listening Fancy's ear.

...

          106     Nature! great parent! whose unceasing hand
          107Rolls round the seasons of the changeful year,
          108How mighty, how majestic are thy works!
          109With what a pleasing dread they swell the soul,
          110That sees astonish'd, and astonish'd sings!
          111Ye too, ye winds! that now begin to blow
          112With boisterous sweep, I raise my voice to you.
          113Where are your stores, ye powerful beings! say,
          114Where your a{:e}rial magazines reserv'd,
          115To swell the brooding terrors of the storm?
          116In what far-distant region of the sky,
          117Hush'd in deep silence, sleep you when 'tis calm?

          118     When from the pallid sky the sun descends,
          119With many a spot, that o'er his glaring orb
          120Uncertain wanders, stain'd; red fiery streaks
          121Begin to flush around. The reeling clouds
          122Stagger with dizzy poise, as doubting yet
          123Which master to obey; while, rising slow,
          124Blank in the leaden-colour'd east, the moon
          125Wears a wan circle round her blunted horns.
          126Seen through the turbid, fluctuating air,
          127The stars obtuse emit a shivering ray;
          128Or frequent seem to shoot athwart the gloom,
          129And long behind them trail the whitening blaze.
          130Snatch'd in short eddies, plays the wither'd leaf;
          131And on the flood the dancing feather floats.
          132With broaden'd nostrils to the sky upturn'd,
          133The conscious heifer snuffs the stormy gale.
          134Even as the matron, at her nightly task,
          135With pensive labour draws the flaxen thread,
          136The wasted taper and the crackling flame
          137Foretell the blast. But chief the plumy race,
          138The tenants of the sky, its changes speak.
          139Retiring from the downs, where all day long
          140They pick'd their scanty fare, a black'ning train
          141Of clamorous rooks thick-urge their weary flight,
          142And seek the closing shelter of the grove.
          143Assiduous, in his bower, the wailing owl
          144Plies his sad song. The cormorant on high
          145Wheels from the deep, and screams along the land.
          146Loud shrieks the soaring hern; and with wild wing
          147The circling sea-fowl cleave the flaky clouds.
          148Ocean, unequal press'd, with broken tide
          149And blind commotion heaves; while from the shore,
          150Eat into caverns by the restless wave,
          151And forest-rustling mountain comes a voice
          152That, solemn-sounding, bids the world prepare.
          153Then issues forth the storm with sudden burst,
          154And hurls the whole precipitated air
          155Down in a torrent. On the passive main
          156Descends th' ethereal force, and with strong gust
          157Turns from its bottom the discolour'd deep.
          158Through the black night that sits immense around,
          159Lash'd into foam, the fierce-conflicting brine
          160Seems o'er a thousand raging waves to burn.
          161Meantime the mountain-billows, to the clouds
          162In dreadful tumult swell'd, surge above surge,
          163Burst into chaos with tremendous roar,
          164And anchor'd navies from their stations drive,
          165Wild as the winds across the howling waste
          166Of mighty waters: now th' inflated wave
          167Straining they scale, and now impetuous shoot
          168Into the secret chambers of the deep,
          169The wintry Baltic thund'ring o'er their head.
          170Emerging thence again, before the breath
          171Of full-exerted heaven they wing their course,
          172And dart on distant coasts, if some sharp rock
          173Or shoal insidious break not their career,
          174And in loose fragments fling them floating round.

          175     Nor less at hand the loosen'd tempest reigns.
          176The mountain thunders, and its sturdy sons
          177Stoop to the bottom of the rocks they shade.
          178Lone on the midnight steep, and all aghast,
          179The dark wayfaring stranger breathless toils,
          180And, often falling, climbs against the blast.
          181Low waves the rooted forest, vex'd, and sheds
          182What of its tarnish'd honours yet remain;
          183Dash'd down and scatter'd, by the tearing wind's
          184Assiduous fury, its gigantic limbs.
          185Thus struggling through the dissipated grove,
          186The whirling tempest raves along the plain;
          187And, on the cottage thatch'd or lordly roof,
          188Keen-fastening, shakes them to the solid base.
          189Sleep frighted flies; and round the rocking dome,
          190For entrance eager, howls the savage blast.
          191Then too, they say, through all the burden'd air
          192Long groans are heard, shrill sounds, and distant sighs,
          193That, utter'd by the demon of the night,
          194Warn the devoted wretch of woe and death.

          195     Huge uproar lords it wide. The clouds, commix'd
          196With stars swift-gliding, sweep along the sky.
          197All Nature reels: till Nature's King, who oft
          198Amid tempestuous darkness dwells alone,
          199And on the wings of the careering wind
          200Walks dreadfully serene, commands a calm;
          201Then straight air, sea, and earth are hush'd at once.

          202     As yet 'tis midnight deep. The weary clouds,
          203Slow-meeting, mingle into solid gloom.
          204Now, while the drowsy world lies lost in sleep,
          205Let me associate with the serious Night,
          206And Contemplation, her sedate compeer;
          207Let me shake off th' intrusive cares of day,
          208And lay the meddling senses all aside.

          209     Where now, ye lying vanities of life!
          210Ye ever-tempting, ever-cheating train!
          211Where are you now? and what is your amount?
          212Vexation, disappointment, and remorse.
          213Sad, sick'ning thought! and yet deluded man,
          214A scene of crude disjointed visions past,
          215And broken slumbers, rises still resolv'd,
          216With new-flush'd hopes, to run the giddy round.

          217     Father of light and life! thou Good Supreme!
          218O teach me what is good! teach me Thyself!
          219Save me from folly, vanity, and vice,
          220From every low pursuit; and feed my soul
          221With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure,
          222Sacred, substantial, never-fading bliss!

          223     The keener tempests come; and, fuming dun
          224From all the livid east or piercing north,
          225Thick clouds ascend, in whose capacious womb
          226A vapoury deluge lies, to snow congeal'd.
          227Heavy they roll their fleecy world along,
          228And the sky saddens with the gather'd storm.
          229Through the hush'd air the whitening shower descends,
          230At first thin-wavering; till at last the flakes
          231Fall broad and wide and fast, dimming the day
          232With a continual flow. The cherish'd fields
          233Put on their winter robe of purest white.
          234'Tis brightness all; save where the new snow melts
          235Along the mazy current. Low the woods
          236Bow their hoar head; and, ere the languid sun,
          237Faint from the west, emits his evening ray,
          238Earth's universal face, deep-hid and chill,
          239Is one wild dazzling waste, that buries wide
          240The works of man. Drooping, the labourer-ox
          241Stands cover'd o'er with snow, and then demands
          242The fruit of all his toil. The fowls of heaven,
          243Tam'd by the cruel season, crowd around
          244The winnowing store, and claim the little boon
          245Which Providence assigns them. One alone,
          246The redbreast, sacred to the household gods,
          247Wisely regardful of th' embroiling sky,
          248In joyless fields and thorny thickets leaves
          249His shivering mates, and pays to trusted man
          250His annual visit. Half-afraid, he first
          251Against the window beats; then, brisk, alights
          252On the warm hearth; then hopping o'er the floor,
          253Eyes all the smiling family askance,
          254And pecks, and starts, and wonders where he is;
          255Till, more familiar grown, the table-crumbs
          256Attract his slender feet. The foodless wilds
          257Pour forth their brown inhabitants. The hare,
          258Though timorous of heart, and hard beset
          259By death in various forms, dark snares, and dogs,
          260And more unpitying men, the garden seeks,
          261Urg'd on by fearless want. The bleating kind
          262Eye the bleak heaven, and next the glistening earth,
          263With looks of dumb despair; then, sad-dispers'd,
          264Dig for the wither'd herb through heaps of snow.

          265     Now, shepherds, to your helpless charge be kind;
          266Baffle the raging year, and fill their pens
          267With food at will; lodge them below the storm,
          268And watch them strict: for, from the bellowing east,
          269In this dire season, oft the whirlwind's wing
          270Sweeps up the burden of whole wintry plains
          271In one wide waft, and o'er the hapless flocks,
          272Hid in the hollow of two neighbouring hills,
          273The billowy tempest whelms; till, upward urg'd,
          274The valley to a shinning mountain swells,
          275Tipp'd with a wreath high-curling in the sky.

...

          322     Ah! little think the gay licentious proud,
          323Whom pleasure, power, and affluence surround--
          324They, who their thoughtless hours in giddy mirth,
          325And wanton, often cruel, riot waste--
          326Ah! little think they, while they dance along,
          327How many feel, this very moment, death
          328And all the sad variety of pain;
          329How many sink in the devouring flood,
          330Or more devouring flame; how many bleed,
          331By shameful variance betwixt man and man;
          332How many pine in want, and dungeon-glooms,
          333Shut from the common air and common use
          334Of their own limbs; how many drink the cup
          335Of baleful grief, or eat the bitter bread
          336Of misery; sore pierc'd by wintry winds,
          337How many shrink into the sordid hut
          338Of cheerless poverty; how many shake
          339With all the fiercer tortures of the mind,
          340Unbounded passion, madness, guilt, remorse;
          341Whence, tumbled headlong from the height of life,
          342They furnish matter for the tragic muse.
          343Even in the vale, where wisdom loves to dwell,
          344With friendship, peace, and contemplation join'd,
          345How many, rack'd with honest passions, droop
          346In deep retir'd distress, how many stand
          347Around the death-bed of their dearest friends,
          348And point the parting anguish! Thought fond man
          349Of these, and all the thousand nameless ills
          350That one incessant struggle render life,
          351One scene of toil, of suffering, and of fate,
          352Vice in his high career would stand appall'd,
          353And heedless rambling Impulse learn to think;
          354The conscious heart of Charity would warm,
          355And her wide wish Benevolence dilate;
          356The social tear would rise, the social sigh;
          357And, into clear perfection, gradual bliss,
          358Refining still, the social passions work.

...

          424     Now, all amid the rigours of the year,
          425In the wild depth of winter, while without
          426The ceaseless winds blow ice, be my retreat,
          427Between the groaning forest and the shore,
          428Beat by the boundless multitude of waves,
          429A rural, shelter'd, solitary scene;
          430Where ruddy fire and beaming tapers join
          431To cheer the gloom. There studious let me sit,
          432And hold high converse with the mighty dead:
          433Sages of ancient time, as gods rever'd,
          434As gods beneficent, who bless'd mankind
          435With arts and arms, and humaniz'd a world.
          436Rous'd at th' inspiring thought, I throw aside
          437The long-liv'd volume, and deep-musing hail
          438The sacred shades that slowly rising pass
          439Before my wandering eyes. First Socrates,
          440Who, firmly good in a corrupted state,
          441Against the rage of tyrants single stood
          442Invincible! calm reason's holy law,
          443That voice of God within th' attentive mind,
          444Obeying, fearless or in life or death:
          445Great moral teacher! wisest of mankind!
          446Solon the next, who built his commonweal
          447On equity's wide base; by tender laws
          448A lively people curbing, yet undamp'd
          449Preserving still that quick peculiar fire,
          450Whence in the laurel'd field of finer arts,
          451And of bold freedom, they unequal'd shone,
          452The pride of smiling Greece and human-kind.
          453Lycurgus then, who bow'd beneath the force
          454Of strictest discipline, severely wise,
          455All human passions. Following him I see,
          456As at Thermopylae he glorious fell,
          457The firm devoted chief, who prov'd by deeds
          458The hardest lesson which the other taught.
          459Then Aristides lifts his honest front;
          460Spotless of heart, to whom th' unflattering voice
          461Of freedom gave the noblest name of Just;
          462In pure majestic poverty rever'd;
          463Who, ev'n his glory to his country's weal
          464Submitting, swell'd a haughty rival's fame.
          465Rear'd by his care, of softer ray appears
          466Cimon, sweet-soul'd; whose genius, rising strong,
          467Shook off the load of young debauch; abroad
          468The scourge of Persian pride, at home the friend
          469Of every worth and every splendid art;
          470Modest and simple in the pomp of wealth.

...

          498     Of rougher front, a mighty people come,
          499A race of heroes! in those virtuous times
          500Which knew no stain, save that with partial flame
          501Their dearest country they too fondly lov'd.
          502Her better founder first, the Light of Rome,
          503Numa, who soften'd her rapacious sons;
          504Servius the king, who laid the solid base
          505On which o'er earth the vast republic spread.
          506Then the great consuls venerable rise:
          507The public father who the private quell'd,
          508As on the dread tribunal, sternly sad;
          509He, whom his thankless country could not lose,
          510Camillus, only vengeful to her foes;
          511Fabricius, scorner of all-conquering gold,
          512And Cincinnatus, awful from the plough;
          513Thy willing victim, Carthage! bursting loose
          514From all that pleading Nature could oppose,
          515From a whole city's tears, by rigid faith
          516Imperious call'd, and honour's dire command;
          517Scipio, the gentle chief, humanely brave,
          518Who soon the race of spotless glory ran,
          519And, warm in youth, to the poetic shade
          520With friendship and philosophy retir'd;
          521Tully, whose powerful eloquence a while
          522Restrain'd the rapid fate of rushing Rome;
          523Unconquer'd Cato, virtuous in extreme;
          524And thou, unhappy Brutus, kind of heart,
          525Whose steady arm, by awful virtue urg'd,
          526Lifted the Roman steel against thy friend.
          527Thousands besides the tribute of a verse
          528Demand; but who can count the stars of heaven.
          529Who sing their influence on this lower world?

          530     Behold, who yonder comes! in sober state,
          531Fair, mild, and strong as is a vernal sun:
          532'Tis Phoebus' self, or else the Mantuan swain!
          533Great Homer too appears, of daring wing,
          534Parent of song! and equal by his side,
          535The British Muse; join'd hand in hand they walk,
          536Darkling, full up the middle steep to fame.
          537Nor absent are those shades, whose skilful hand
          538Pathetic drew th' impassion'd heart, and charm'd
          539Transported Athens with the moral scene;
          540Nor those who, tuneful, wak'd th' enchanting lyre.

          541     First of your kind! society divine!
          542Still visit thus my nights, for you reserv'd,
          543And mount my soaring soul to thoughts like yours.
          544Silence, thou lonely power! the door be thine;
          545See on the hallow'd hour that none intrude,
          546Save a few chosen friends, that sometimes deign
          547To bless my humble roof, with sense refin'd,
          548Learning digested well, exalted faith,
          549Unstudied wit, and humour ever gay.
          550Or from the Muses' hill will Pope descend,
          551To raise the sacred hour, to bid it smile,
          552And with the social spirit warm the heart;
          553For, though not sweeter his own Homer sings,
          554Yet is his life the more endearing song.

...

          630     The city swarms intense. The public haunt,
          631Full of each theme and warm with mix'd discourse,
          632Hums indistinct. The sons of riot flow
          633Down the loose stream of false enchanted joy
          634To swift destruction. On the rankled soul
          635The gaming fury falls; and in one gulf
          636Of total ruin, honour, virtue, peace,
          637Friends, families, and fortune headlong sink.
          638Up-springs the dance along the lighted dome,
          639Mix'd and evolv'd a thousand sprightly ways.
          640The glitt'ring court effuses every pomp;
          641The circle deepens; beam'd with gaudy robes,
          642Tapers, and sparkling gems, and radiant eyes,
          643A soft effulgence o'er the palace waves:
          644While a gay insect in his summer shine,
          645The fop, light-flutt'ring, spreads his mealy wings.

          646     Dread o'er the scene the ghost of Hamlet stalks;
          647Othello rages; poor Monimia mourns;
          648And Belvidera pours her soul in love.
          649Deep-thrilling terror shakes; the comely tear
          650Steals o'er the cheek: or else the comic muse
          651Holds to the world a picture of itself,
          652And raises sly the fair impartial laugh.
          653Sometimes she lifts her strain, and paints the scenes
          654Of beauteous life; whate'er can deck mankind,
          655Or charm the heart, in generous Bevil show'd.

          656     O thou, whose wisdom, solid yet refin'd,
          657Whose patriot virtues, and consummate skill
          658To touch the finer springs that move the world,
          659Join'd to whate'er the graces can bestow,
          660And all Apollo's animating fire,
          661Give thee with pleasing dignity to shine
          662At once the guardian, ornament, and joy
          663Of polish'd life; permit the rural muse,
          664O Chesterfield, to grace thee with her song.
          665Ere to the shades again she humbly flies,
          666Indulge her fond ambition, in thy train
          667(For every muse has in thy train a place)
          668To mark thy various full-accomplish'd mind,
          669To mark that spirit which with British scorn
          670Rejects th' allurements of corrupted power;
          671That elegant politeness which excels,
          672Ev'n in the judgment of presumptuous France,
          673The boasted manners of her shining court;
          674That wit, the vivid energy of sense,
          675The truth of nature, which, with Attic point
          676And kind well-temper'd satire, smoothly keen,
          677Steals through the soul and without pain corrects.
          678Or, rising thence with yet a brighter flame,
          679O let me hail thee on some glorious day,
          680When to the listening senate ardent crowd
          681Britannia's sons to hear her pleaded cause!
          682Then, dress'd by thee, more amiably fair,
          683Truth the soft robe of mild persuasion wears;
          684Thou to assenting reason giv'st again
          685Her own enlighten'd thoughts; call'd from the heart,
          686Th' obedient passions on thy voice attend;

          687     And ev'n reluctant party feels a while
          688Thy gracious power, as through the varied maze
          689Of eloquence, now smooth, now quick, now strong,
          690Profound and clear, you roll the copious flood.

          691     To thy lov'd haunt return, my happy muse:
          692For now, behold! the joyous Winter days,
          693Frosty, succeed; and through the blue serene,
          694For sight too fine, th' ethereal nitre flies,
          695Killing infectious damps, and the spent air
          696Storing afresh with elemental life.
          697Close crowds the shining atmosphere; and binds
          698Our strengthen'd bodies in its cold embrace,
          699Constringent; feeds, and animates our blood;
          700Refines our spirits, through the new-strung nerves
          701In swifter sallies darting to the brain;
          702Where sits the soul, intense, collected, cool,
          703Bright as the skies, and as the season keen.
          704All nature feels the renovating force
          705Of Winter, only to the thoughtless eye
          706In ruin seen. The frost-concocted glebe
          707Draws in abundant vegetable soul,
          708And gathers vigour for the coming year;
          709A stronger glow sits on the lively cheek
          710Of ruddy fire; and luculent along
          711The purer rivers flow: their sullen deeps,
          712Transparent, open to the shepherd's gaze,
          713And murmur hoarser at the fixing frost.

          714     What art thou, frost? and whence are thy keen stores
          715Deriv'd, thou secret all-invading power,
          716Whom ev'n th' illusive fluid cannot fly?
          717Is not thy potent energy, unseen,
          718Myriads of little salts, or hook'd, or shap'd
          719Like double wedges, and diffus'd immense
          720Through water, earth, and ether? Hence at eve,
          721Steam'd eager from the red horizon round,
          722With the fierce rage of Winter deep suffus'd,
          723An icy gale, oft shifting, o'er the pool
          724Breathes a blue film, and in its mid-career
          725Arrests the bickering stream. The loosen'd ice,
          726Let down the flood and half dissolv'd by day,
          727Rustles no more; but to the sedgy bank
          728Fast grows, or gathers round the pointed stone,
          729A crystal pavement, by the breath of heaven
          730Cemented firm; till, seiz'd from shore to shore,
          731The whole imprison'd river growls below.
          732Loud rings the frozen earth, and hard reflects
          733A double noise; while, at his evening watch,
          734The village-dog deters the nightly thief;
          735The heifer lows, the distant waterfall
          736Swells in the breeze; and with the hasty tread
          737Of traveller the hollow-sounding plain
          738Shakes from afar. The full ethereal round,
          739Infinite worlds disclosing to the view,
          740Shines out intensely keen, and, all one cope
          741Of starry glitter, glows from pole to pole.
          742From pole to pole the rigid influence falls
          743Through the still night, incessant, heavy, strong,
          744And seizes nature fast. It freezes on,
          745Till morn, late-rising o'er the drooping world,
          746Lifts her pale eye unjoyous. Then appears
          747The various labour of the silent night:
          748Prone from the dripping eave, and dumb cascade,
          749Whose idle torrents only seem to roar,
          750The pendant icicle; the frost-work fair,
          751Where transient hues and fancy'd figures rise;
          752Wide-spouted o'er the hill the frozen brook,
          753A livid tract, cold-gleaming on the morn;
          754The forest bent beneath the plumy wave;
          755And by the frost refin'd the whiter snow
          756Incrusted hard, and sounding to the tread
          757Of early shepherd, as he pensive seeks
          758His pining flock, or from the mountain top,
          759Pleas'd with the slippery surface, swift descends.

...

        1024     'Tis done! Dread Winter spreads his latest glooms,
        1025And reigns tremendous o'er the conquer'd year.
        1026How dead the vegetable kingdom lies!
        1027How dumb the tuneful! Horror wide extends
        1028His melancholy empire. Here, fond man!
        1029Behold thy pictur'd life; pass some few years,
        1030Thy flowering Spring, thy Summer's ardent strength,
        1031Thy sober Autumn fading into age,
        1032And pale concluding Winter comes at last
        1033And shuts the scene. Ah! whither now are fled
        1034Those dreams of greatness? those unsolid hopes
        1035Of happiness? those longings after fame?
        1036Those restless cares? those busy bustling days?
        1037Those gay-spent festive nights? those veering thoughts,
        1038Lost between good and ill, that shared thy life?
        1039All now are vanish'd! Virtue sole survives,
        1040Immortal, never-failing friend of man,
        1041His guide to happiness on high. And see!
        1042'Tis come, the glorious morn! the second birth
        1043Of heaven and earth! awakening nature hears
        1044The new-creating word, and starts to life
        1045In every heighten'd form, from pain and death
        1046For ever free. The great eternal scheme,
        1047Involving all, and in a perfect whole
        1048Uniting, as the prospect wider spreads,
        1049To reason's eye refin'd clears up apace.
        1050Ye vainly wise! ye blind presumptuous! now,
        1051Confounded in the dust, adore that Power
        1052And Wisdom oft arraign'd: see now the cause
        1053Why unassuming worth in secret liv'd
        1054And died neglected: why the good man's share
        1055In life was gall and bitterness of soul:
        1056Why the lone widow and her orphans pin'd
        1057In starving solitude; while luxury
        1058In palaces lay straining her low thought
        1059To form unreal wants: why heaven-born truth
        1060And moderation fair wore the red marks
        1061Of superstition's scourge; why licens'd pain,
        1062That cruel spoiler, that embosom'd foe,
        1063Embitter'd all our bliss. Ye good distress'd!
        1064Ye noble few! who here unbending stand
        1065Beneath life's pressure, yet a little while,
        1066And what your bounded view, which only saw
        1067A little part, deem'd evil is no more:
        1068The storms of wintry time will quickly pass,
        1069And one unbounded Spring encircle all.

Notes

1] "Winter." The Seasons is a long descriptive, philosophical, and humanitarian poem in four books (one for each season) concluded by a final "Hymn to Nature." Thomson not only describes typical scenes but includes narrative episodes, panegyrics, and reflections, and the work is, among other things, a poetical exposition of design (the Religion of Nature) of which the third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) had been perhaps the most important English exponent. Comparisons with Pope's Essay on Man can be made throughout. "Winter" was first published in 1726, "Summer" in 1727, "Spring" in 1728, and the complete poem in 1730. Many additions and expansions were made prior to the edition of 1744, upon the text of which the present selection is based. 6. Cf. Paradise Lost, I, 250-51: "... Hail horrors, hail Infernal world."

15] Cf. Job 9: 9: "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south."

41-43] The sun passes from Sagittarius (the "Centaur-Archer"), the ninth sign of the Zodiac, to Capricorn, the tenth sign, about December 21, and a month later enters Aquarius. Lines 17-40 are a dedicatory address to the Earl of Wilmington.

43] inverted. The suggestion is that winter is associated with retrogression, as the other three seasons are with advancement. Cf. Dryden, "Song to a Fair Young Lady," line 4.

106] Lines 72-105 are a description of a cheerless rain-storm.

126-41] The source of this passage is to be found in Virgil, Georgics, i, 365-90.

150] eat: eaten.

168] Cf. Psalms 104:3: "Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters."

176] sons: trees.

193] demon of the night: the attendant spirit, or presiding genius, of Night.

194] devoted: doomed.

199-200] Cf. Psalms 104: 3: "... who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind."

246] household gods: a classical allusion to the Roman Penates, signifying simply "the family."

322] Lines 276-321 are the account of a cottager's death in a snow-storm.

348] fond: foolish.

349-50] Cf. Hamlet, III, i: "the thousand natural shocks/ That flesh is heir to."

424] Lines 359-88 give an account of the cruelties of a British prison in the eighteenth century; 389-423 describe wolves descending from the Alps and Apennines.

441 ff.] "The passage on ancient governments which begins at this point reflects, in its stress on freedom against tyranny and servility, the propaganda of the Opposition" (R. S. Crane). The Walpole administration was notoriously indifferent to the welfare of the country and to the spirit of liberty, which it was the duty of the Opposition to revive.

443] Cf. Pope, Essay on Man, II, 203-4.

446] Solon: an Athenian law-giver (b. 638? B.C.), one of the seven wise men.

453] Lycurgus: Spartan law-giver of the ninth century, B.C.

457] chief: Leonidas, King of Sparta, who suffered a noble death at Thermopylae opposing the Persian Xerxes (480 B.C.).

458] the other: Lycurgus.

459] Aristides: military leader of the Athenians (d. 468 B.C.), responsible for legislation admitting all classes of citizens to political offices.

464] a haughty rival: Themistocles.

466] Cimon: a disciple of Aristides, who achieved distinction in the war against the Persians. With his vast wealth he greatly improved and beautified Athens, his native city.

498] a mighty people: the Romans. Lines 471-97 refer to "the last worthies of declining Greece."

499] those virtuous times: referring to the republic.

502] better founder: Numa, second (legendary) king of Rome (the first, Romulus). He was "better" because he founded the religious institutions of Rome.

504] Servius: sixth king of Rome, founder of the constitution.

507] The reference is to Lucius Junius Brutus, who, as consul of the new republic, condemned his own sons to death for their attempt to restore the exiled royal family of the Tarquins.

510] Camillus: consul (403 B.C.). Upon accusations made against him by the state which he had faithfully served, he retired, but was recalled in 390 to defend the state against the Gauls.

511] Fabricius: consul (282 B.C.), who refused offers of money by Pyrrhus, King of Epirus.

512] Cincinnatus: consul (460 B.C.), who accepted the dictatorship of the state, but, his work done, he returned to his farm.

513] victim: Regulus, a consul during the time of the first Punic War. Captured by the Carthaginians, he was sent as emissary to Rome where he advised continuation of the war, and, despite family and state entreaties, honourably returned to Carthage and a cruel death.

517] Scipio: called "Africanus" (minor) from destroying Carthage (146 B.C.); a cultivated man of letters.

521] Tully: Cicero.

523] Cata: (234-149 B.C.) commonly called the Censor because of his severity and strictness.

524] Brutus: Marcus Junius Brutus; cf. Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

532] Phoebus: Apollo, patron of poets.
Mantuan swain: Virgil.

535] British Muse: Milton.

536] darkling: The reference is to the blindness of both Homer and Milton.

537] shades: the Attic tragedians.

540] those: the Greek lyric poets.

630] Lines 555-71 are Thomson's tribute to his friend James Hammond, a minor elegiac poet. 572-629. In lines 572-629, the poet gives an account of winter evening studies and amusements in the country.

647] Monimia: the heroine of Otway's play The Orphan.

648] Belvidera: the heroine of Otway's Venice Preserved.

655] Bevil: a character in Steele's sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers.

656-90] These complimentary lines to the Earl of Chesterfield, author of the famous Letters to his Son, and by many considered the model of the polite and dignified eighteenth-century gentleman, were added to the 1744 edition of the poem.

661] give: permit or enable.

675] Attic point: meant to suggest the liveliness and sparkle of Athenian wit.

680] senate: House of Lords.

694] ethereal nitre: not only an effect of a certain condition of the atmosphere but also a kind of fine salt. Cf. line 718.

706] concocted: in the sense of ripened.

707] soul: life.

710] luculent: beauteous, shining.

716] illusive fluid: water eluding the grasp.

721] red horizon: in the west, at sunset, a sign of frost. Cf. Virgil, Georgics, iii, 358.

725] bickering: rippling.

1024] Lines 760-949 comprise three sections, mainly descriptive, which are concerned with winter sports, winter scenes in the frigid zone, and the impressive grandeur of the polar regions. Lines 950-87 are an historical digression (added in 1744) that deals with the progressive reforms of Peter the Great of Russia. Lines 988-1023 return to a passage descriptive of frost succeeded by a thaw.

1039-40] Cf. Pope, Essay on Man, IV, 309-10: "Know then this truth (enough for man to know) 'Virtue alone is happiness below'."

1042-46] Cf. Revelation 21: 1-4.

1055] Cf. Acts 8: 23.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: James Thomson, The Seasons (London: Henry Woodfall for A. Millar, 1744). MCC T4 S32 1744 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1726
RPO poem editor: G. G. Falle
RP edition: 3RP 2.184.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/8

Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by James Thomson