16 August 2009

Can Poetry Save the Earth?

This post is inspired from a beautiful morning devotional yesterday by Frances Lee Menlove given at the 2009 Sunstone Symposium. In the book, Can Poetry Save The Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems, John Felstiner "explores the rich legacy of poems that take nature as their subject, and he demonstrates their force and beauty. In our own time of environmental crises, he contends, poetry has a unique capacity to restore our attention to our environment in its imperiled state. And, as we take heed, we may well become better stewards of the earth." On April 13, 2009 NPR issued Felstiner a challenge: "Pick just one poem that could save the world, if everyone were to read it." He chose 'The Well Rising.'

The Well Rising
by William Stafford

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through
the deep ground
everywhere in the field--

The sharp swallows in their
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer--

The swallow heart from wing beat
to wing beat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place
my feet
with care in such a world.

(From Can Poetry Save The Earth?: A Field Guide to Nature Poems)

It is beautiful to contemplate what 'placing our feet with care in this world' could come to mean for each of us. To go along with this, my brother-in-law Tyler, who has spent the summer traveling in Guatemala has introduced me to Pablo Neruda.

Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

(From Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon Translated by Stephen Mitchell)


Patricia said...

Oh oh oh, this is a beautiful post! Thank you for putting it up, gma. And thanks so much for calling attention to that devotional. I wouldn't have heard about it otherwise.

I met William Stafford. The man had something of an aura surrounding his person. So many of his poems reach for connexion with the ground around, with the life around.

I absolutely believe that convincing narrative (by "narrative" I mean any composition of language that opens a story of life) offers one of the most life-engaging mediums for altering our stance on the earth--more than threats of apocalypse or financial reprisals, more than shallow TV show portrayals of environmental consciousness, more than any number of commercialized ways folks try to frighten or shame other folks into getting with the game plan. Everybody wants more--helping people actually form deeper relation with each other and with the world enveloping them is the more inviting way. And poetry and narrative of all sorts make overtures of deeper feeling, deeper interest, deeper connexion.

Th. said...


I was going to say something about making sure you knew about Patricia's site, then I figured she probably mentioned it, then she didn't. So click on her name. There. Plugged.

Patricia said...

He knows, Th. He knows.

I'm delighted to say he's guesting at WIZ this week.