by John Hay ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 2, 1998
An extravagantly lyrical indictment of our desecration of nature from the widely respected elder statesman of nature writers--aggrieved, contrarian, but ultimately self-absorbed. Readers of Hay's recent work (A Beginner's Faith in Things Unseen, 1995; The Bird of Light, 1991; etc.) will recognize familiar themes: humanity's shortcomings contrasted with nature's superior design; the foolishness of subduing and distancing the natural world. Summers in Maine and winters on Cape Cod provide the backdrop for appreciative observations of birds, butterflies, fish and the forests, fields, and marshes they inhabit. Hay has mastered the ecolyricist's requisite reverence for nature and facility for poetic description; his reveries on the sea's liberating effect or the spiritual inspiration gained from the company of barn swallows or the unexpected appearance of a kingfisher reverberate with a Whitmanesque celebration of self: ""The sea calls me out. . . . I would be carried on a wind which is free of possession. . . . I am interested in moving with the mind of birds."" But combined with his obvious misanthropy in the face of mankind's disconnection from (or worse, hostility toward) nature, Hay's song of himself sounds an off-note between despair and self-involvement. He offers little in the way of actionable advice, opting instead for declarations that are portentous or self-evident. Much of what he says is sound (for example, he notes the absurdity of a planet that values the economic health of ""a bloated industrial society"" above clean air and water), but passion rather than fact propels his argument. The resulting sermon will undoubtedly draw plenty of amens from the choir, but it offers little saving grace for sinners. Moments of transcendent beauty, pretty writing, and a heart that's in the right place aren't enough to transcend Hay's self-conscious straining for a miracle around every corner.
Pub Date: March 2, 1998
Page Count: 192
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998
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