Anne Bradstreet: Poems

Anne Bradstreet: Poems Summary and Analysis of "The Four Seasons"



Spring begins; she is neither hot nor cold, but her breath is reviving and pure. She awakens the Earth from its slumber and death. The months of March, April, and May are the fairest of the year. The Plowman can get back to work, the Seedman can sow his grain, and the Gardener can start pruning his garden. Everything that once seemed dead is now alive. Frogs, birds, and lambs call out and play. Occasionally, a bit of cold and wind makes us remember winter in March. In April, the rains come and pears, plums, and apricots flourish. In May, the Earth is richly clad, and the Sun beams down on flowers and warms the busy bee gathering honey. The cherries, peas, and strawberries are ripe for picking. Each season has its fruits and each man has "his own peculiar excellence," but none is so lovely as Spring.


Summer speaks, and comes from Fire, Choler, and Middle Age, just as Spring is rooted in Air, Blood, and Youth. In Summer, the sweat runs off of faces and the burning Sun shines down on the Earth, drying the soil and heating the air like an oven. Shepherd lads labor with their sheep, and kings envy their pleasant lives. In June, the roses with their lustrous perfume are kept in glasses and the cherries and gooseberries are ripe. In July, the hottest month of the year, mowers go about slashing their meadows and carts roll away with their prizes. The Earth is dry and hot. In August, sickles are used to harvest barley and rye. The carter's sleepless nights and his toil in the sun will yield an abundant crop. Summer seems short and Autumn is on its way.


Day and night are now of equal length and the grapes are ready to be turned into wine, that "precious juice." Oranges, lemons, pomegranates, and figs are ready to be picked. This Autumn is when time first began – when "was made apostate Man" in Eden. In October, the Northern winter blasts begin to blow and the Sun resides in Scorpio. This is the time for "Decrepit age," which is when age can tend to his grave. In November, the Sun is so far away that it cannot warm us, and some regions of the Earth, like Greenland and Lapland, see no sun to "lighten their obscurity." We eat meats and desire warm clothes and fires. Autumn resembles Earth, old age, and Melancholy.


Now it is time for "Cold, moist, young flegmy winter" to be born and swaddled. It grows taller and taller through December, moving through to the feast time and the Nativity. January, bitterly cold and frozen, is next, "Chilling the blood and shrinking up the skin." The days become longer and the cold harsher. February arrives, when the rivers start flowing and the snows begin to melt. A bit of warm from the sun is felt.

Thus, the "Circle runneth round / Where it did begin, in th' end its found." The poet says that she has laid her subjects bare though her brain, which is "bad." She hopes the lines she has penned will be acceptable; any faults her reader might see shall be his or hers to pardon.


"The Four Seasons" is another one of Bradstreet's four Quaternions. It is the shortest and the most amiable, for the seasons do not war with each other and barely even debate at all; they mostly present their individual characteristics and by the end of the poem, assert their unity.

While many critics have labeled these poems as immature or conventional, Jane Donahue Eberwein lauds the structure that Bradstreet uses, explaining that "the four debates allowed her to divide the world into multiple categories, assert the worth of each part, observe its limitations, recognize dichotomies among values, and look for a source of unity." Eberwein understands that all of the humors, all of the elements, all of the seasons, and all of the four ages of man – and then all of [those] four categories – are closely aligned with one another. Bradstreet uses the word "Cyclical" to describe the relationship between the seasons at the end of "The Four Seasons." She writes in Winter's lines, "And thus the year in Circle runneth round: / Where it first did begin, in th' end its found."

The poems in this series are quite secular in comparison to some of Bradstreet's other material because of how little she references God. She makes indirect references to God as the Creator of all things, but unlike "Contemplations," Bradstreet refrains from making extended ruminations about God's majesty as evinced in nature. She is content to look at Earth and its bounty without needing to indicate that there is a Creator. Rather, she implies that the Earth is enough. In this poem in particular, the reader can sense the poet's great fascination with the sublunary world.

"The Four Seasons" starts with Spring, which Bradstreet identifies with Youth, Blood, and Air. Spring is gorgeous, bringing light and fairness back to the world. People get back to work in the fields and the flowers bloom. The rains fall, the honey bee starts buzzing, and the strawberries grow. Winter is not quite gone, but the world has been revived and is warmer now. Bradstreet clearly identifies spring with Youth, who, in "The Four Ages of Man," brags of his aesthetically pleasing appearance and the way he makes people feel energized and alive. Summer, hot and vibrant, comes next. The roses are bursting, the shepherd boy is basking in the hot sun, and cherries and gooseberries are growing. The heat can be difficult, but is also rewarding for crops. This season is akin to Middle Age in that it is difficult but also vital.

Autumn is next, and Bradstreet writes about wine, harvests, ripe figs, and almonds. It is the time when coldness returns to Earth, and is thus parallel to Old Age. People remember that "time first of all began" in autumn. The autumn can bring warmth, fires, and food, but also "pinched flesh and hungry mawes." Bradstreet offers a warning here – one must be careful about how he or she lives out the other seasons in order to be prepared for Autumn. Finally, there is Winter, the Child. Winter is a time of youth, which is, as Bradstreet explains, when the sun's path in the sky is "like an Infant, still it taller grows." The winter months are chilly and wet, but they bring Christmas and festivities. The months are short and Spring is right around the corner. By ending her poem with infancy and showing how the winter months melt into Spring allows Bradstreet to demonstrate the interconnectedness and cyclical nature of the seasons.