James Thomson's Seasons

The Seasons

James Thomson (1700–1748)

The Seasons is a series of four lengthy blank verse poems written by the Scottish author James Thomson, reflecting on the landscape of the countryside. 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.

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. 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.

The poem 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.

The poem was extremely influential and much liked for at least a century after its writing. Especially lavish editions were produced between 1830 and 1870 in Britain and America. Other than Haydn, it stimulated works by John Christopher Smith, Thomas Gainsborough and J. M. W. Turner among many others.

Artists such as Thomas Medland, Anker Smith and John Neagle (1792) created engravings to accompany the poems. A bathing scene from Summer inspired paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, William Etty and Johann Sebastian Bach the Younger.



When at the Edinburgh University, Thomson was a member of “The Grotesques” literary club.

James Thomson is well known as the author of the famous patriotic air “Rule, Britannia!”, originally from the now mostly forgotten Thomas Arne’s masque Alfred, he co-wrote with best friend David Mallet. The piece was first preformed on 1 August 1740.

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

The Text:

Further Reading:

Steven M. Critelli, “Alexander Pope – Peri Bathous,” Against Interpretation, Oct, 24, 2012 (revised Mar. 8, 2018).