Today is all about the natural world around us, from caterpillars to columnar tree shapes, bird-bills to blizzards and snapping turtles to tornadoes; Nature’s got it all going on, it’s wondrous, it is us and it’s a recurring theme in poetry. ‘First follow nature’ Alexander Pope remarked in his Essay on Criticism; ’Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?’ asks Henry Thoreau in his part-personal book Walden about simple living.
Poets and writers are akin to spies when it comes to observing Nature, and have always drawn on her beauty, landscapes and seasons, through metaphor – to better understand ourselves and our behaviour, or to convey deep metaphysical messages and stark ecological ones, or simply to celebrate life’s 3 and a half billion years of existence!
To help us, Gary Snyder gets ecological with his observations by Frazier Creek Falls, a meditation really on the natural world, similar to the Japanese Haiku tradition, which reduces the world to a kernel of acute observation. And as I read this, I found it to be one of those poems that demand absolute stillness, in keeping with the geology and pyramidal pines of the scene he’s describing. He creates a stunning picture of what he sees from the falls and explores the idea that we are linked to everything around us, man and nature are one ‘we are it, it sings through us’ he says. We are interconnected. And if we took the time to really consider this concept, then we could reach a more ecologically sound understanding of what it means to grow and develop as a species. If we stopped trying to control nature and began instead to work with her, life would be far less complicated. A Zen Buddhist, who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, skins his own bullfrogs and spends nights reading the constellations, Gary Snyder is a poet entrenched in the nature!
Jane Hirshfield’s Zen Buddhist training taught her two things: silence and the desire to call forward a complete attention. – Inhabiting her own experience I guess. Recalling Mary Oliver’s attention to detail and Gary Snyder’s meditations, Hirshfield finds a deeper understanding of herself in her interactions with nature. Her poem, Three Foxes By the Edge Of A Field At Twilight, reflects on how much in nature is hidden from us and what in turn we keep hidden from each other. The foxes are visible until she tries to approach, then the woods suddenly take them back. She continues walking with an acquaintance from whom she holds back some of herself. Perhaps the foxes represent the thoughts she can‘t verbalise, the ones that return to the heart, revealing something to herself and to us: that in our desire to be closer to nature we come to realise that we are closer to ourselves than we know. That old Lao Tzu proverb comes to mind ‘he who knows, does not speak. He who speaks does not know.’ The poem is from her Selected Poetry volume Each Happiness Ringed By Lions.
‘Are you bowed down in heart?’ Asks James Weldon Johnson in his poem Deep In The Quiet Wood, ‘Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life? Then come away, come to the peaceful wood, here bathe your soul in silence.’ Those lines are beautiful aren’t they? And they jumped out at me, reminding me of places I often go to escape, the traffic, bustling streets and … disruptive neighbours. My favourite place to recharge, is at the grounds of Ashford Castle in the village of Cong, Co. Mayo. It’s a wonderful amenity with tranquil woods of varieties of broad-leaf, evergreen and native trees, it’s on the shores of Lough Corrib with it’s meditative crystal clear waters and there’s a school of falconry there also so if you’re lucky enough to arrive during a hawk-walk, you’ll be captivated by these amazing creatures soaring and diving, their bells jingling through the trees. American poet Wendell Berry also espouses the view that we can find solace in nature, that the spirit of the natural world can restore the human spirit. ’When despair grows in me‘, he says ’I come into the peace of wild things’ , there is somewhere we can go to relieve the anxieties of our lives, but you know sometimes even reading this poem I find myself transported and automatically relaxed. From the 1968 collection Openings, we’ll read The Peace Of Wild Things.
There’s a lot to be gained through communing with the natural world, and I suppose we shouldn’t have to try we are a part of it, we are stardust after all. This world is the house we live in, packed full of creatures and plants and natural wonders and our over-exploitation of it is unfortunate, every habitat we destroy today results in the loss of a species tomorrow – we all know this – primates, tropical orchids, numerous species of birds and fish are all at risk. But more worryingly, because they thrive on human activity, things like cockroaches and rats are the only species unaffected! So think on China & America! All we can do is look after our own patch, make a home for nature isn’t that the tag-line?
Also on today’s show, I read Lingering Happiness by Mary Oliver, Putting In The Seed by Robert Frost and Summer Farm by Scottish poet Norman MacCaig. Music from Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm, Message To Bears, Yaruma and much more!