Monday, January 04, 2010

Seasons Greetings from John Milton?

Climate Map of World
For the Postlapsarian World
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm still looking into the seasons for my query concerning John Milton's prelapsarian use of this climatic term in Paradise Lost, but due to laziness and post-holiday ennui, I'll simply quote from some reference sources this morning. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the term "season" has the following history:
c.1300, "a period of the year," with ref. to weather or work, from O.Fr. seison (Mod.Fr. saison) "a sowing, planting," from L. sationem (nom. satio) "a sowing," from pp. stem of serere "to sow" (see sow). Sense shifted in V.L. from "act of sowing" to "time of sowing." In O.Fr. and O.Prov. this was extended to "season" in general (sowing season being the most important).
We're told to take a look at "sow":
O.E. sawan "to scatter seed upon the ground or plant it in the earth" (class VII strong verb; past tense seow, pp. sawen), from P.Gmc. *sæjanan (cf. O.N. sa, O.S. saian, M.Du. sayen, Du. zaaien, O.H.G. sawen, Ger. säen, Goth. saian), from PIE base *se- (cf. L. sero, pt. sevi, pp. satum "to sow;" O.C.S. sejo, sejati; Lith. seju, seti "to sow"), source of semen, season (n.), seed, etc.
From the French and Latin evidence, the basic meaning for "season" in English seems related to the time of sowing, which in temperate continental climates would be early spring for many crops. Milton knew French and Latin, of course, and seems to prefer springtime as the pre-eminent season for characterizing Paradise, based on my anecdotal evidence from Paradise Lost, but he also sometimes pairs spring with autumn as characteristic of the prelapsarian Garden.

He may have a couple of reasons. Astronomically considered, Eden enjoyed perpertual equinox, and that could be conceived as either vernal or autumnal, or both. Agriculturally considered, Eden evinced both spring and autumn, putting forth blossoms and fruit simultaneously. Yet Milton seems to prefer springtime as the better referent, possibly because it more vigorously calls up images of life, unlike autumn's connotation of falling leaves . . . and hence of death.

The other term for "autumn" is, after all, "fall," which Milton seems to avoid in Paradise Lost as a synonym for "autumn," but I'll have to check more carefully to be sure of this point.

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