nature poetry

Writer and philosopher (if I may so describe him) Jim Murdoch has recently blogged on Calder Wood Press author Marion McCready‘s new pamphlet, Vintage Sea. Part two of his posting is a detailed and thoughtful interview with Marion and it has raised several issues which resonate with me. I’ll specifically discuss ‘nature poetry’ here. Marion has a fascinating idea which I will quote here: For me, nature is very much a metaphor for something other than what it is.

That’s a very difficult concept for me to follow. I’d rather turn it around and say that in my view the way metaphor is often used is an inadequate, inaccurate and over-simplistic way of describing the natural world. It frequently and misleadingly adds layers of confusion and misunderstanding between ‘what’s out there’ and how we perceive it. And yet, due to the limitations of our senses and of our understanding, it’s often the only way we have to express the complexity of the world.

At the most fundamental level, mathematics is the language which most accurately describes reality, but it’s not the language in which poetry is written. We use words as descriptors to define things, concepts, ideas, ourselves and our actions. But words are at best a partial parallel to reality, and they are subject to modification, reinterpretation and change, as our world view evolves over time. Back in the day, I used cluster and co-citation analysis of words in geological publications to map the paradigm shift which plate tectonics brought to earth sciences. It’s the same in biology; we can’t go back to a pre-Darwinian view of the biological world, because evolutionary understanding  is part of our intellectual tool kit.

In my own writing I don’t make a separation between ‘nature poetry’ and the other subjects I write about, although I will admit that some focus more than others on the natural world than on other aspects of reality. But where I do describe the natural world I try to be as careful with my facts as I can be, within the dominant paradigms of physics, chemistry, biology or earth sciences I might be writing about.  If that comes out as nature poetry, then so be it.

About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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6 Responses to nature poetry

  1. Just a few thoughts on nature poetry and what it means to me: in my own attempts I regard ‘nature poetry’ as an attempt at naming a relationship. A percieved kinship between myself and what I have always held most dear. The natural world as a source and a resource, a place to return to, honour and commune with. The natural world as a primary source of beauty. I concur with what Marion McCready says but only up to a point. As far as my understanding goes re her statement nature is a metaphore and a pointing to the relationship I allude to in my verse (at its best! sometimes I fail in the attempt).

  2. Another few words on ‘nature poetry’ – looking again at what I have just posted. I’d like to add a couple more thoughts. We live in an incredible world of diverse life forms. A staggering array of variations on a theme of life. Poetry allows us to engage with all of this. It provides us an opportunity to respond. I have long regarded poetry in this context as a practice akin to meditation. It is a means-whereby we can engage with and express gratitude for life. In a sense it is about rediscovering the child within and the world around us. Learning to see again but this time with an adults appreciation for the gift. Also poetry as an antidote to cynicism and despair. Our ability to respond to beauty is fundementally what makes us human. Buber comes to mind – ‘All real living is meeting’. Poetry is about meeting and nature poetry at its best is about connecting with the natural world and consciously living that relationship.

  3. In my own ‘nature poetry’, nature is very much active. Rather than the relationship being between the passive observed (nature) and the active observer (myself), I try to bring out the sense of nature as a witness to our actions, the contant backdrop to our lives.
    The bible says that God reveals Himself to us through nature, this concept invests nature with the ability to be a symbol for something other than what it is and also allows it to respond to us.

  4. Jim Murdoch says:

    I wasn’t brought up in the inner city. My entire childhood was straight out of an Enid Blyton book. Every spare moment was spent wandering through somewhere green. As I grew up, however, I started to see the natural world as an ‘other’ place and not a part of my ‘real’ world. The irony is that I’d got the natural and the synthetic mixed up in my head. Like a kid I longed for the artificially-flavoured lolly rather than a bite of fruit. No, on the rare occasion I go for a wander in the countryside these days – which is literally less than twenty yards from my block of flats – I feel like a stranger, an intruder.

    There is no arguing with the fact that the natural world is something to marvel at and I fully understand what the apostle Paul was on about but I guess I’ve become one of the “inexcusable” ones. For the record I’m not sold on evolution either. It doesn’t matter to me how I got here; I’m here and that’s what I have to deal with. I’m a poet and so I see the metaphor in everything but I’m more inspired by abstracts than concrete reality. Human nature is a constant source of fascination to me. So, sure, I could use a tree as a metaphor when talking about a person but with would be the notion of a tree that I would have in my head not any special tree that I might have encountered. I’m with Billy Connolly when it comes to going for a nature ramble these days even if he has become a bit of a tree hugger in his old age: “Go for a walk, walking. Oh, a tree, I’m glad I came. Oh, there’s a bird, what a walk this is turning out to be!”

  5. Duncan says:

    In Chapter IV of Nature (1836) Ralph Waldo Emerson, the father of transcendentalism, wrote:

    “It is not words only that are emblematic; it is things which are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.”

    I’m told this is practically verbatim what Blake said. Or Paracelsus or Boehme whom they both had read.

  6. sunnydunny says:

    Some interesting comments there. I’ll obviously have to return to the subject at some point, maybe in more depth. In the meantime, publishing business calls.

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