In 1881 Constance Naden published her first volume of poetry, Songs and Sonnets of Springtime, which is a far more varied collection than the title might have you believe. See the ‘Contexts’ page for further discussion of this.
Embedded in this collection is a series of twenty sonnets that describe the shifting seasons, beginning with ‘January, 1879’ and ‘To a Hyacinth in January’, and closing with ‘December, 1879’. Through these Naden observes the natural world, describing beauty and life alongside dormancy and death. It is therefore a sonnet cycle in the fullest sense of the term: the twenty poems demand to be read in sequence, not because they offer a narrative but because they embody the cycles of the natural world that have no true beginning or end.
These sonnets are, at turns, charming, melancholy, reverent, and philosophical. Naden skilfully captures the seasonal sights and sounds of flora and fauna in just fourteen lines, and uses these to focus her reflections on life.
This is a year-long project, for which I shall post each sonnet in the appropriate month, along with some commentary, close reading, and context. I warmly encourage you to read along with me, and engage in further discussion of the poems in the comments or over on Twitter @ClareGS87.
If you’d like to position these sonnets in the context of her life and works, head over to the ‘About Naden’ page for some background on the poet herself. ‘About Me’ provides some more information about my current PhD research on Naden as a poet, philosopher, and student of science.
The sonnets are printed sequentially on pages 109 to 128 of Naden’s Complete Poetical Works, which is freely available through the wonderful Victorian Women Writers Project (hosted by Indiana University).