The Human Seasons by John Keats

Keats wrote this sonnet at Teignmouth in the second week of March 1818 and enclosed it in a letter to Benjamin Bailey dated 13 March, writing: ‘You know my ideas about Religion. I do not think myself more in the right than other people, and that nothing in this world is proveable. I wish I could enter into all your feelings on the subject merely for one short 10 Minutes and give you a Page or two to your liking. I am sometimes so very sceptical as to think Poetry itself a mere Jack a lanthen to amuse whoever may chance to be struck with its brilliance. As Tradesmen say every thing is worth what it will fetch, so probably every mental pursuit takes its reality and worth from the ardour of the pursuer–being in itself a nothing–Ethereal thing[s] may at least be thus real, divided under three heads–Things real–things semireal –and no things. Things real–such as existences of Sun Moon & Stars and passages of Shakspeare. Things semireal such as Love, the Clouds &c which require a greeting of the Spirit to make them wholly exist–and Nothings which are made Great and dignified by an ardent pursuit –which by the by stamps the burgundy mark on the bottles of our Minds, insomuch as they are able to “consec[r]ate whate’er they look upon”. I have written a Sonnet here of a somewhat collateral nature–so don’t imagine it an a propos des bottes. ‘

Keats wrote numerous minor poems while at Teignmouth and the first drafts are preserved in letters to Bailey, Reynolds and Haydon. This particular work was first published in Leigh Hunt’s Literary Pocket-Book for 1819.

Here is the original draft of ‘The Human Seasons’, as included in the letter to Bailey:

Four Seasons fill the Measure of the year;
Four Seasons are there in the mind of Man.
He hath his lusty spring when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He hath his Summer, when luxuriously
He chews the honied cud of fair spring thoughts,
Till, in his Soul dissolv’d they come to be
Part of himself. He hath his Autumn ports
And Havens of repose, when his tired wings
Are folded up, and he content to look
On Mists in idleness: to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshhold brook.
He hath his Winter too of pale Misfeature,
Or else he would forget his mortal nature.
Here is the final, published draft:

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 honied 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.