Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Nature —– June/July 2011.
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Poetry is often thought to have a special relationship with nature, from the British Romantics to Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers. Nature poetry is now sometimes frowned upon as being too sentimental or idealist, imagining utopias that cannot exist in a modern, urban world. Poetry, however, might be a very useful tool for understanding the human relationship with nature, especially when pollution is rife and industry threatens to destroy America’s beautiful natural spaces for the sake of profit.
In his study, The Song of the Earth, the critic Jonathan Bate draws on the ideas of the philosopher Martin Heidegger to put forward the idea of “poetic dwelling”. Though writing is an act of human production, far away from the natural world, Bate notes that poetry emphasizes the imagination rather than possession, something that is particularly important with regards to nature. This poetic attitude can be seen in the poems of Robert Frost, such as `The Need of Being Versed in Country Things,’ which describes a tumbledown house where birds fly in through the broken windows. Frost notices that in this scene of human wreckage, life carries on: `the lilac renewed its leaf’. Human beings do not dominate the landscape and finally nature reclaims the human dwelling. Frost concludes that for the birds, `there was really nothing sad’.
(This is a column for the NVWN Newsletter: https://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork).