Posts tagged ‘poetry and connection to nature’

November 25, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Robert Hass

by Melissa Harding

leaves

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Poetry need supporters, people to fight for it as an important part of society. Poetry needs Robert Hass. As a poet, he is wonderful at translating the natural world into a personal history, combining descriptions of his native California countryside with autobiographical narrative. However, some of Hass’s best work may arguably be his advocacy for poetry. From 1995-1997, Hass served as the United States Poet Laureate and poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, transforming the position from one that was largely ceremonial to one that is now a public advocate for poets and their work. During his tenure as Poet Laureate, Hass visited businesses, convincing them to support poetry contests for school kids and spoke with civic groups, trying to inform them about the importance of poetry as an art. He is widely credited with being the most active poet laureate up to that time and set a high bar for those who followed.

Hass’s poems use the natural world as a backdrop for the stories he has to tell. His descriptions are vivid and beautiful, whether they are a small part of a poem or the majority of it’s content. Not typically considered a “nature poet”, Hass uses the natural world for his own purposes, different within each poem.

The Woods in New Jersey

Where there was only grey, and brownish grey,
And greyish brown against the white
Of fallen snow at twilight in the winter woods,

Now an uncanny flamelike thing, black
and sulphur-yellow, as if it were dreamed by Audubon,
Is turned upside down in a delicate cascade

Of new leaves, feeding on whatever mites
Or small white spiders haunt underleafs at stem end,
A magnolia warbler, to give the thing a name.

The other name we give this overmuch of appetite
The beauty unconscious of itself is life.
And that that kept the mind becalmed all winter? –

The more austere and abstract rhythm of the trunks,
Vertical music the cold makes visible,
That holds the whole thing up and gives it form,

or strength – call that the law. It’s made,
whatever we like to think, more of interests
than of reasons, trees reaching each their own way

for light, to make the sort of order that there is.
And what of those deer treading through the woods
In a late snowfall and silent as the snow?

Look: they move among the winter trees, so much
the color of the trees, they hardly seem to move.

Hass’s poems are conversational, as they describe his world in detail, like he is telling the reader a story at a party. He also manages to fill each one with the wisdom of someone who has “been there” before, whether or not that was a good thing. He deftly weaves his personal experience with the world in which it happens; nature is part of his life story. He writes both grand, detailed nature scenes and descriptions of the tiniest things that catch the eye – all within the context of a larger story.

Sonnet

A man talking to his ex-wife on the phone.
He has loved her voice and listens with attention
to every modulation of its tone. Knowing
it intimately. Not knowing what he wants
from the sound of it, from the rendered civility.
He studies, out the window, the seed shapes
of the broken pods of ornamental trees.
The kind that grow in everyone’s garden, that no one
but horticulturalists can name. Four arched chambers
of pale green, tiny vegetal proscenium arches,
a pair of black tapering seeds bedded in each chamber,
A wish geometry, miniature, Indian or Persian,
lovers or gods in their apartments. Outside, white,
patient animals, and tangled vines, and rain.

Read a full biography of Robert Hass and find selected poems here. To read commentaries by other poets on some of their favorite Hass poems, check out this great link.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above photo was taken by Melissa Harding.

October 30, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Gary Snyder

by Melissa Harding

slip creek

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Gary Snyder is a writer of all types; not just a poet, he is also an activist, essayist and lecturer. As a child, Snyder was deeply connected to the Pacific Northwestern areas where he was raised and developed an increasingly strong and complex relationship with the natural world over the course of his life. Though as a contemporary of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg he is considered by some to be a Beat poet, he has handily transcended that early moniker through a lifelong study of Eastern religions, Japanese culture, anthropology, and ecology. Whether in spite of or because of this wide variety of influences, his work truly captures his sense of curiosity, affection and reverence for the natural world and the people who make their living on it. Not only that, but his words somehow manage to create that feeling in the reader. In an essay published in his collection A Controversy of Poets, he wrote, ” I try to hold both history and wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.”  Snyder’s poems take the reader all over the world, from coals mines to Japanese gardens and everywhere in between. Some of his descriptive, purposeful verses make reading his poems feel like diving into a deep lake; they are both refreshing and biting at the same time.

Meeting the Mountains

He crawls to the edge of the foaming creek
He backs up the slab ledge
He puts a finger in the water
He turns to a trapped pool
Puts both hands in the water
Puts one foot in the pool
Drops pebbles in the pool
He slaps the water surface with both hands
He cries out, rises up and stands
Facing toward the torrent and the mountain
Raises up both hands and shouts three times!
hfhfhf
Snyder’s approach is straightforward and clear; he doesn’t write poems that are just about ecology, but rather the environment as a whole. He takes into account the buildings, the people, and how they relate the natural world that surrounds them. Snyder does not exclude people from his poems. Instead, he records the connection between humanity and nature.
hfhfhf
Migration of Birds
It started just now with a hummingbird
Hovering over the porch two yards away
then gone.
It stopped my studying.
I saw the redwood post
Leaning in clod ground
Tangled n a bush of yellow flowers
Higher than my head, through which we push
Every time we come inside –
The shadow network of the sunshine
Through its vines. White-crowned sparrows
Make tremendous singing in the trees
The rooster down the valley crows and crows.
Jack Kerouac outside, behind my back
Reads the Diamond Suites in the sun.
Yesterday I read Migration of Birds;
The Golden Plover and the Arctic Tern.
Today that big abstraction’s at our door
For juncos and the robins all have left,
Broody scrabblers pick up bits of string
And in this hazy day
Of April summer heat
Across the hill the seabirds
Chase Spring north along the coast:
Nesting in Alaska
In six weeks.
ghghgh
Read a full biography of Gary Snyder and find selected poems here. Read more about Snyder’s views on the purpose of “environmental” poetry here.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above photo was taken by Jeff Harding.

September 4, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Mary Oliver

by Melissa Harding

herons

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Mary Oliver is a true poet of nature. Her poems speak about the natural world, from the smallest creatures to the largest questions of being alive. Some of her poems are famous enough to be printed on posters or used as quotes in email signatures, but don’t hold that against her. In her defense, they really are just that good; so good, in fact, that Oliver won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for her work. For people who find poetry too intangible, or perhaps too strange, Oliver’s poems are different – honest and supremely sensible. In a 2012 interview with NPR , she had this to say about her work, “One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear. It mustn’t be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now are, they sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary shouldn’t be in a poem.” While many poets write about the topic of nature, Oliver’s poems are so crafted that they bear reading again and again; they are never the same each time and always provoke a different corner of the heart or mind.

The Swan
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

Oliver’s poems remind us that we are alive and that our lives have consequence. She asks us to be mindful, of both the world around us and the one inside us. What is so refreshing about Oliver is that she asks these difficult things of us only because she has struggled with them herself. These are questions worth asking, even if the answers are hard.

Winter and the Nuthatch
Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,
the timid nuthatch will come to me
if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.
The first time he did it
he landed smack on his belly, as though
the legs wouldn’t cooperate. The next time
he was bolder. Then he became absolutely
wild about those walnuts.

But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,
the nuthatch was flying into a stranger’s hand.
To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.
I wanted to say: Mister,
that nuthatch and I have a relationship.
It took hours of standing in the snow
before he would drop from the tree and trust my fingers.
But I didn’t say anything.
Nobody owns the sky or the trees.
Nobody owns the hearts of birds.
Still, being human and partial therefore to my own successes—
though not resentful of others fashioning theirs—
I’ll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early.

Read a full biography of Mary Oliver and find selected poems here.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above picture was taken by Jeff Harding.

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