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Nature and poetry: An ecocritical approach to modern poetry (from the Romantic age to the ecological age)

Deuk Ju Jeon, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Ecocritical theory investigates the relationship between human activities and the natural world, particularly in terms of the influence of each upon the other. Within this broad theoretical field, ecofeminist theory studies women's particular impact on the relationships between the human and natural worlds, and women's potentials to promote the desirable human relationships to the natural world as a way to get over the environmental crisis today. When it foremost stresses sensual and spiritual experience with the outer world for individual and cultural changes, the function of art as healing power is stressed. This is an effort for the recovery of human organic (or primordial) unity with nature in which the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity blurs. This dissertation examines two groups of poets to trace in the earlier group the beginnings of an ecocritical (or “green”) consciousness and in the later group two manifestations of this consciousness. The Romantic poetics, which sees poetry as emotional communication with the outer world as William Hazlitt articulates, presupposes the human organic unity with nature. William Wordsworth expresses the unity as the light of things (on the part of the nature) and “the noble capability to be elevated without gross and violent stimulants” (on the part of human beings): joy is the outer expression of the unity. While Wordsworth mostly resorts to the memory of the experience of his earlier years, John Clare embodies the feelings that Wordsworth philosophizes. For Clare, nature is poetry itself, and he claims that he picks up his poems from nature. Without a transcendent self, he most resorts to a sensory approach to nature. Catherine Ann Dorset, Mary Howitt, Mary Anne Browne, and Letitia Elizabeth Landon who are almost forgotten Romantic poets embody in their poems the women's potentials or wisely use the traditional parallel between women and nature. Dorset and Howitt's mother personas introduce the young reader to the natural world. While Dorset teaches the importance of emotion in human existence in the way David Ehrenfeld uses, Howitt imparts Wordsworthian joy in appreciating natural creatures, crediting value of humor reminiscent of Joseph Meeker's idea of comedy for survival. Browne defines a clearly spiritual relationship between the human and natural worlds. Landon, the late Romantic, creates a female poetics that uses elements of nature and the natural world as figurations for a personal examination of women's status in both the public and the private worlds of mid-nineteenth-century England. Because American poetry inherited much of the Romantic heritage, this dissertation considers two American poets who have drawn ecocritics' attention: Robinson Jeffers, whose poetry depicts a world of “inhumanism” in which nature is neither sentimentalized nor subjectified, and in contrast to Jeffers, Gary Snyder who creates a poetry (and a poetics) that is grounded in the poet's personal experience with Zen and seeks to reconcile the supposedly irreconcilable modern division between humans and the natural world. Snyder's work culminates the consideration of human and non-human relations that is a central subject of all the poets examined here, and it suggests a healthy method for restoring the historical equilibrium and interdependence of these two realms that has been eroded in the modern industrial age. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Literature, American|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Jeon, Deuk Ju, "Nature and poetry: An ecocritical approach to modern poetry (from the Romantic age to the ecological age)" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3142086.