14 December 2018

Getting Back to Nature

The following three poems, in my opinion, demonstrate the complexities and dynamics of how nature is depicted in American literature.

“Song of Nature” by Emerson is an ode to the natural world, whose history, evolution, and cycle is entwined with human history. The poem opens with personal “I” embedded in “night and morning”, “the solar glory”, and zooms out in space and time to “many a thousand summers” and far-away stars. It traces the trajectory of humankind, which was written in the history of rock, fire, sea and the human endeavor of “building in the coral sea” and “planting of the coal.” The poem then arrives at the birth or re-birth of humanity born out of the endless cycle of the universe, out of “spent and aged things…” The idea and theme expressed in the poem correspond with Buell’ point that nature is not just a framing device but it also encapsulates and connects with human history. In search of a human God, Emerson in the end finds heaven in the dewy thorn of the fresh rose and expresses his re-imagining of the divine as immense and visible as nature.

Like “Song of Nature”, “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass celebrates the tangible beauty of nature. Unlike the general, meaningless, and wearisome talk of ideas, the image of “a woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk / of that black birch” and “the bramble of blackberry” illuminate more on the human spirituality and condition. Black birch signifies the “fallen off from a first world of undivided light”, childhood is associated with “river with its island willows” and “orange-silver fish”, and the tenderness of love is manifested in the body, and “blackberry, blackberry, blackberry”.

“Mock Orange” by Louise Gluck, on the other hand, uses nature’s image to express the speaker’s anger and disappointment in human relationship. Unlike the pastoral and romantic poems about nature such as “Song of Nature” and “Meditation at Lagunitas”, the poem informs that nature is not all beauty. Look at the mock orange, it is fake and its odor odious and unbearable, it does not bear the real fruit, and same goes with the union of a man and a woman. In this poem, the speaker links her personal story to an image in nature and reminds readers that not all is peaceful, sweet and inspiring. The natural world is full of falsehood as humans “were made fools of”. Nevertheless, the poem shows the intricate connection between human emotions and their perceived environment: on that night, “It is not the moon, I tell you. / It is these flowers / lighting the yard.”