Poetry and the Natural World

Happy New Year! And welcome to the first of the Spring series of our workshops for Arthur Rank’s Living Well community.

This week we are turning to poetry which reflects on the natural world. At the same time we also want to take a quick dip into an important aesthetic idea connected with Romanticism: the “sublime”. A long tradition of poets have attempted to express the way in which nature can create responses not just of joy or pleasure, but also feelings of awe or even fear. We’ll ask whether we can identify with these moments of wonder and awe in a series of four very different poems.

This morning we will:

Hear some poems describing the natural world and our relationship to it.
Discuss how the authors express their ideas and feelings.
Talk reflectively together, share our perspectives and favourites, and how these poems can give us a new insight.

The Poems

1. Gerald Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him

2. George Gordon Lord Byron, extract from Child Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto 3

I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me; and to me
High mountains are a feeling, but the hum
Of human cities torture: I can see
Nothing to loathe in nature, save to be
A link reluctant in a fleshly chain,
Class’d among creatures, when the soul can flee,
And with the sky – the peak – the heaving plain
Of ocean, or the stars, mingle – and not in vain.

3. Avi Banias, A Sunset

4. Percy Shelley, extract from Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there,
The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death.
In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,
In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,
Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,
Or the star-beams dart through them:—
Winds contend Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home
The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods
Over the snow. The secret Strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind’s imaginings,
Silence and solitude were vacancy?

Further Reading

You may like to have a look at Words for our selection of poetry and prose on the theme of death and dying.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and learn from your insights and experiences. Feel free to speak to the nursing team or get in touch with us directly cambridgegooddeath@gmail.com.

Posted: 3rd January 2023