So having established what nature writing is, I wanted to do some of my own. I’ve been gathering prompts and ideas for a few weeks and have decided to focus mostly on poetry. As such, I’ve read a number of nature poems and decided on a handful to look at more closely:
- Seamus Heaney, Derry Derry Down (2010)
- John Clare, All Nature Has a Feeling (poet was alive 1793-1864)
- Emily Dickinson, “Nature” is What We See (1924)
- Emily Dee, The Causeway, Lindesfarne (2016)
I’ve chosen poems from a range of dates since the Romanticism era so that I can consider a range of styles and contents. I don’t intend to write long critques of these poems but in order to help me consider them more careful, I have written down some thoughts.
I love the use of syllables in this poem. We have the one syllable rhyming words – lush, blush, bush – which are interspersed with words which linger on the tongue a little longer – gooseberry, unforbidden. This primal, lustful part contrasts with the fairytale-esque depiction in the remainder of the poem; storybook, sleeping beauty.
All Nature Has a Feeling, John Clare
All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal: and in silence they
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books;
There’s nothing mortal in them; their decay
Is the green life of change; to pass away
And come again in blooms revivified.
Its birth was heaven, eternal it its stay,
And with the sun and moon shall still abide
Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.
Apparently this is quite a popular funeral poem… I haven’t yet found a date for the poem but Clare was alive between 1793-1864 and for context William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and died in 1850. The poem echoes the themes from The Tables Turned, opening up the reader to the natural world and guiding them away from books. However, unlike Wordsworth, Clare was not an educated man and thus his call to nature instead of learning feels more accessible to the common person and does not have the irony of The Tables Turned.
Clare talks of nature as a sentient being, one which is always changing but will never die. This theme of cycles and rebirth is one which comes up in a lot of nature writing and one which most of us can relate to or feel inspired or comforted by.
“Nature” is What We See, Emily Dickinson
“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
NB, A bobolink is a type of bird with a lovely tune.
Defining nature was one of my key aims this month so it was only appropriate that I included this poem. I really like the way that Dickinson plucks at definitions and discards them as being unsuitable. There is a quality about it that, even though it is more than a list, reads as a list. A ticking off of things which nature is not. Finding she cannot use that particular sense to find nature, she moves on to a new list. And eventually gives up. The poem itself appears simple but Dickinson’s use of language means it is more than what it first seems, like many good poems. The ordering of her images means we are constantly moving between small and large and thus she cleverly illustrates the vast diversity of nature. The delicate twinkle of the Bobolink contrasts with the strong and powerful sound of the sea.
I love the texture in this poem, the crisp frost, the gritty sand, the soft, slithery snail. They really help me feel part of the place, and they focus me in on the detail and then the tearful seals raising their heads to the sky throw me wide.
The last two lines of this poem stunned me. The moon as a silent engine, how powerful and how Dee has taken this incredibly natural, almost untouchable, entity and turned it on its head with the use of the word engine, a word which summons up man made, functionality.
Dee was 17 when she was one of the winners of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2016.