Samples Poetry Poetry Analysis Essay: “The Human Seasons” by John Keats

Poetry Analysis Essay: “The Human Seasons” by John Keats

702 words 3 page(s)

Reading John Keats’ poem “The Human Seasons,” the literal meaning of the poem is described in the title. The poem serves as a literal comparison between the seasons in nature and the stages of life in human experience. The opening two lines establish this: “Four Seasons fill the measure of the year; / There are four seasons in the mind of man” (Keats 1-2). Keats equates youth with spring; young adulthood with summer; middle age with autumn; and old age with winter. At each stage, according to Keats, man’s mind experiences a different season and different reactions to and interactions with the world around him. In spring, man is fully aware of the world and involved in it; in summer he looks back on the sweetness of spring. In autumn, he is aware but less involved, content to look at the world as it passes. In winter, he seems unaware and disengaged, but this stage – the end of life – is important: it reminds him of his mortality. Keats writes that without winter, man would “forego his mortal nature” (14).

Figuratively, the meaning of the poem is still about the stages of growth of man. However, these stages may be considered less physical and more about man’s mental growth or maturity. Keats writes that as man’s seasons progress, man loves “To ruminate” on “Spring’s honied cud of youthful thought,” and “by such dreaming high / Is nearest unto heaven” (6-8). In other words, man has grown through the immature stage of childhood and is able to reflect on those experiences and recall them with contentment, realizing that those were good days. Keats also uses animals to describe man’s state of being and development. There is no animal associated with the youthful stage, likely to show how the individual is still becoming. However, for young adulthood, Keats uses a cow chewing its cud to demonstrate the kind of heaviness and slowness of thought as the individual develops. It is also very present and physical. For autumn Keats uses a bird which is still present and physical but less large and more fragile in comparison to a cow. For winter Keats does not use an animal. Instead, much like youth where Keats did not use something physical and present to underline the developing individual, the lack of an animal seems to suggest fading mortality and the movement of man out of the physical world. Some scholars comment that this poem was about Keats’ own process of maturity (Al-Abbood).

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This poem has several interesting features. Keats uses nature – the seasons and the animals – to describe the experience of man. This reminds the reader that man is part of nature and subject to its laws. For all man’s power and intelligence and physical presence in the world, he is still subject to those laws: he goes through seasons and phases and, in the end, dies (Ulmer). This poem is also interesting how much ‘room’ Keats gives for each stage. The spring section only contains two lines; summer contains four lines; autumn contains five lines; and winter contains two lines. This would correspond with the time one spends in the different stages of life, an interesting use of space to communicate time on Keats’ part.

I personally enjoy this poem. I think it is a fairly accurate description of the way a person grows physical and matures mentally as they live their lives and have experiences. Author Noor Al-Abbood asserts that the poem is about Keats’ own life, but I believe anybody can identify with this poem and the process of growth and maturity that everybody goes through. Al-Abbood states that Keats was not afraid of death but was afraid of dying young and not reaching his full potential. This is a good lesson for all of us: we should enjoy the literal and figurative stages of growth we experience, but we should not forget that all life in nature, even us, has an end.

  • Al-Abbood, M.H.D. Noor. “Keats and Fear of Death.” English Language and Literature Studies,
    vol. 5, no. 2, 2015, pp. 103-116.
  • Keats, John. “The Human Seasons.”
  • Ulmer, William A. “The Human Seasons: Arnold, Keats, and” The Scholar-Gipsy”.” Victorian Poetry, 1984, pp. 247-261.