THE SONG OF THE EARTH by Jonathan Bate


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An engaging, closely researched selection of poets whose mediating powers between humans and the natural world have helped restore our links to the earth.

Bate (English/Univ. of Liverpool) clearly illustrates the importance of poetry in expressing the human bond with nature. He deploys the works of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Edward Brathwaite, Les Murray, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Paul Celan—for starters. He discusses "Byron's easy yoking of politics and nature," Keats's "meditation on how human culture can only function through links and reciprocal relations with nature," and how John Clare functions "as a scapegoat: only by alienating himself can he restore us to the oikos." There is a good deal of jargon ("Fanon and Simone de Beauvoir taught us that the defining Others . . ."), but when Bate tenders a few ideas of his own, the reading gets good. His consideration of the role of weather in such poems as Keats's "To Autumn" ("I propose that in order to read it livingly in the age of ecocide we must begin with the knowledge that we have no choice but to live with the weather") is inventive and revealing, as is his sense of the organic ("metre itself—a quiet but persistent music, a recurring cycle, a heartbeat—is an answering to nature's own rhythms, an echoing of the song of the earth itself"). It may well be that a poem can be a "revelation of dwelling" (as opposed to a simple prose narrative)—but more to the point is "the possibility that certain textmarks called poems can bring back to our memory humankind's ancient knowledge that without landmarks we are lost."

An eccentric but worthwhile study.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-674-00168-0
Page count: 335pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2000


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