Sunday poetry – James Thomson

We’ve had a week of perfect autumn weather in Melbourne. Warm, sunny, gentle breezes, leaves gently falling from the trees. It made me think of Anne Elliot’s autumn walk in Persuasion where she finds herself “repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” I like to think that James Thomson’s Autumn, part of his very popular book The Seasons, was one of the poems Anne remembered during her walk to stop her thinking about what Captain Wentworth & Louisa Musgrove might be talking about!

James Thomson was a Scottish poet. After studying for the ministry, he decided to pursue a literary career & moved to London in an effort to have his work published. As well as The Seasons, he also wrote the words of Rule Britannia, which led to Frederick, Prince of Wales awarding him a pension. Thomson died in his late 40s. Samuel Johnson wrote of his death, “by taking cold on the water between London and Kew, he caught a disorder, which, with some careless exasperation, ended in a fever that put end to his life.” I love the portrait above (from here), those early 18th century turbans are so stylish. The Seasons is a very long poem, so here’s just one verse that I particularly like,

The pale descending year, yet pleasing still,
A gentler mood inspires; for now the leaf
Incessant rustles from the mournful grove;
Oft startling such as studious walk below,
And slowly circles through the waving air.
But should a quicker breeze among the boughs
Sob, o’er the sky the leafy deluge streams;
Till choked, and matted with the dreary shower,
The forest walks, at every rising gale,
Roll wide the withered waste, and whistle bleak.
Fled is the blasted verdure of the fields;
And, shrunk into their beds, the flowery race
Their sunny robes resign. E’en what remained
Of stronger fruits falls from the naked tree;
And woods, fields, gardens, orchards all around,
The desolated prospect thrills the soul.

That final line might have pleased even Marianne Dashwood at her most intensely Romantic.

2 thoughts on “Sunday poetry – James Thomson

  1. Persuasion is my favourite Austen too. I also love the scene where Anne is trying to convince Captain Benwick to read some prose instead of a constant diet of Byron & Scott! She's a very sensible woman.

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