Samuel Johnson, ‘Thomson’ Thomson, ‘Spring’ (excerpts)
See Word document above.
As a writer, he is entitled to one praise of the highest kind: his mode of thinking and of expressing his thoughts is original. … His numbers, his pauses, his diction, are of his own growth, without transcription, without imitation. He thinks in a peculiar train, and he thinks always as a man of genius; he looks round on Nature and on Life with the eye which Nature bestows only on a poet; the eye that distinguishes in everything presented to its view whatever there is on which imagination can delight to be detained, and with a mind that at once comprehends the vast and attends to the minute. The reader of the “Seasons” wonders that he never saw before what Thomson shows him, and that he never yet has felt what Thomson impresses., … . His descriptions of extended scenes and general effects bring before us the whole magnificence of Nature, whether pleasing or dreadful. The gaiety of Spring, the splendour of Summer, the tranquillity of Autumn, and the horror of Winter, take in their turns possession of the mind. The poet leads us through the appearances of things as they are successively varied by the vicissitudes of the year, and imparts to us so much of his own enthusiasm that our thoughts expand with his imagery and kindle with his sentiments. … His diction is in the highest degree florid and luxuriant, such as may be said to be to his images and thoughts “both their lustre and their shade;” such as invests them with splendour. …
— Samuel Johnson, “Thomson,” The Lives of the Poets
I wrote the following note (scribbled hastily in a pub in Manhattan where I was reading Thomson’s The Seasons) to myself last week while immersed in Thomson’s “Spring”:
One might be inclined to say
when it comes to nature
it’s all platitudes
Thomson shows this is not the case
His inspiring paean to spring and the seasons
is based upon minute observation and acutely felt experience
I myself have never forgotten the splendid fall in Massachusetts when I was fourteen years old, The warm sun, the crisp air, the colors, the foliage. It was nature at its most glorious. In a particular time and place.
Thomson’s poem (which provided the basis for the libretto of Haydn’s The Seasons) was based on minute, loving observation – rendered in beautiful verse.
I have italicized some of my favorite passages.
— posted by Roger W. Smith
Rarely in New York City does the surging air reveal its plumy burden.
This seems like an odd comment to me.
The “plumy burden” refers to flocks of birds.
Bird watchers go regularly to Central Park, early in the morning. I see them myself.
And I love watching the sea gulls, from the shore downtown and from the ferry, as did Walt Whitman:
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
(Crossing Brooklyn Ferry)
In other parks, I see birds all the time. Like the robins — sure signs of spring — in Pelham Bay Park a week ago.