Shakespeare famously told of the seven ages of man, and here is Keats simplifying man’s time span down into four seasons, and cramming it all into a sonnet. Each season is neatly encapsulated in one stanza. To make this analogy work, you have to start with the season of Spring, which of course, departs from the calendar year, which starts in winter.
The Human Seasons
BY JOHN KEATS
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.
So now we know – Spring is the time of lusty action; summer of contemplation; autumn of introspection; and winter of approaching mortality. This is both intuitively appealing and also sufficiently flexible that all can adapt it to their own circumstances (50 is the new 20 etc…). The irony of course is that Keats himself never got much beyond Spring, setting the template for a Romantic poet by dying in his mid-20s.
The Poetry Dude