Friday, 8 May 2009

Birds - by the Snow

There are a few main forms for writers engaging with climate change in this country: poetry, non-fiction and speculative/science-fiction. The more I read the more I feel that poets are most thoroughly at home exploring our changing relationships with nature (as seen especially here and here). While this may be because I don’t myself write poetry, it’s probably because of the rich tradition of English language nature poetry. It’s common to trace this to Wordsworth and Clare (especially since Jonathan Bate’s Song of the Earth). It won’t surprise you to hear I feel it goes all the way back. I love, for example, these lines of Old English wisdom poetry that mingle the truths about men with the truths of nature:


… Fisc sceal on waetere

cynren cennan.             Cyning sceal on healle

beagas daelan.             Bera sceal on hae├że

eald and egesfull.             Ea of dune sceal

flodgraeg feran.            Fyrd sceal aestomne


… Fish must in water

breed their kind. A king must in a hall

share out rings. A bear must be on a heath

old and terrible. Waters from the downs must

flood-grey flow. A troop must stick together


Which makes me think of Emily Dickinson:


Water – is taught by Thirst –

Land – by the Oceans passed –

Transport – by Throe –

Peace – by its Battles told –

Love – by Memorial Mold –

Birds – by the Snow.

Perhaps because of the way a poem leaves us space around the lines to make our own connections and interpretations I often feel creative reading poetry in a way that happens more rarely with prose. In this way maybe engaged poetry escapes the didacticism that plagues prose. I’m beginning to think that writing about nature needs this sense of space, of room around the edges, silences, rather than utterly exact description. 

This spring we have two new collections from Alice Oswald (of which more in a later post), and there’s an evocative poetic dialogue between John Kinseller and Melanie Challenger taking place on Arts and Ecology here. I also want to share this link to the website of poet Helen Moore (thanks Kim for passing this on) who has a beautiful selection of poems online, all gracefully observant.


  1. Hey, I made an appearance on your blog. I thoroughly enjoy visiting these pages and always walk away inspired. Your prose is so delicately sophisticated.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment Kim, and for continuing to visit! It's been surprisingly fun for me to write the blog but it's good to know people are enjoying reading it too.