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Examples of Seasonal Symbolism


In literature, a reference to a cold winter day or a ray of sunshine may allude to more than its literal meaning. Writers use symbols related to seasons to express ideas such as feelings, the passing of time and age. By noticing key words related to the time of year, a reader gets a better understanding of the meaning behind a writer’s expressions.

Winter Despair and Hope

References to winter in literature may refer to death, old age, pain, loneliness, despair or an end. The season provides the setting for painful messages, as well as messages of renewal, rebirth and hope, according to Annie Fitch in an article on the Poetry Foundation website. In “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” C.S. Lewis uses the winter to represent a time of hopelessness and despair under the rule of the White Witch in Narnia. In the poem “January,” John Updike comments on the lack of sunlight and the darkness of the days. Thomas Champion reflects on the warmth of humankind and nostalgia as compared to the tedium of the winter season in “Now Winter Nights Enlarge.”

Spring Joy and Love

Themes of rebirth and renewal often use symbols from the spring season. Spring also refers to love, hope, youth and growth. The seasonal symbolism for this period may also allude to religious celebrations such as Passover or Easter. Poets like Walt Whitman, Amy Lowell and Robert Burns use lilac blossoms as a seasonal symbol for ongoing hope and renewal. William Shakespeare notes how the cuckoo birds emerge in the spring to mock married men in the poem “Spring.”

Summer Searches and Reflection

When a writer refers to the summer, she may refer to the prime of her own or a character’s life, a vacation, friendship, joy, fullness, exploration or warmth. In “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” series by Ann Brashares, each book takes place during the summer. Summer symbolizes freedom and growth for the characters as they search for love, self-acceptance and their identities. In the poem “Insect Life of Florida,” Lynda Hull reflects that summertime marks the emerging of noisy and annoying insects and family time. She remarks on how the hot days seem endless and how the summer rains made her temporarily forget about the cruelty of love.

Autumn Bounty and Changes

In literature, autumn may refer to ripeness, change, maturity, beauty, sadness or preparing for an end or decline. Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” takes place during the autumn as the leaves begin to change color and fall. In the book, the town experiences grief after the death of Ichabod Crain and the chilly autumn progresses with fears of death and the Headless Horseman. John Keats personifies the season in the poem “To Autumn.” In the ode, Keats states that the season is a laborer that works with the maturing sun to bring bountiful harvests. As the season progresses, autumn acts as a gleaner that decomposes summer flowers and produce left in the fields.

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