Eco-poetry, nature poetry

I’ve heard Wordsworth and John Clare described as the first eco-poets, but I’m not so sure. What they both had in abundance was a genuine love of the natural world and the skills to describe it in poetry. That’s not what ecology is, however, so I’d prefer to use the term nature poetry for this part of their writing.

The word ecology was coined by Ernst Haeckel in 1866 – after the deaths of Wordsworth and Clare – for the science which examines the inter-relationships and inter-connectivity of  organisms and the environments in which they live.

To my mind, neither of our two poets attempt to explain nature. This isn’t to denigrate their work, which I love. What they do is to reflect nature and their place in it as observers. They tell us what the natural world means to them. Clare tells it exactly as it is, and how he is affected by it. Wordsworth uses metaphor and achieves the same ends.

Neither of them  deals with the relationships between organisms. Do you read about oak trees, the tortrix moth caterpillars and the jay? No, of course not, because these relationships hadn’t been teased out at that time.

Do we have poetry which is inspired by ecological energetics? food webs? trophic levels? No, but there’s now some poetry which contains genuine ecological concepts or elements. You can read poetry on environmental hazards and threats, the effects of climate change, on ecosystems, symbiosis, and on specific organisms in their environments. I’d be happy to categorise some of that as eco-poetry, and I often enjoy it, especially when it eschews capitalising Nature (or, even worse, Mother Nature). And at the top level there’s the Gaia hypothesis (Earth Mother Nature?). I’m not so keen on the ones which introduce environmental ethics in a tub-thumping way.

There’s still a lot of nature poetry/ environmental poetry around – I’ve written some of it myself. But I don’t call it eco-poetry.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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2 Responses to Eco-poetry, nature poetry

  1. Although I agree that the poetry of Clare and Wordsworth is nature poetry there is something else to consider. Clare’s outrage at enclosure and Wordsworth’s protest about the coming of railways to the Lake District were responses to negative changes (Clare) and anticipated negative changes(Wordsworth) in the countryside/landscape. If there had been an ‘environmental movement’ ready to take up the causes they identified, a much larger scale protest would have resulted. Today, we would consider this to be ecological in nature.

  2. There is definately a lot to know about this subject. I love all the points
    you have made.

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