There’s great poetry in nature

Published 9:23 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2017

By Susan and Biff Andrews

After two columns looking at art controlling nature, let’s examine an art whose main purpose is to reveal nature: poetry.

There are two types of nature poems, those that describe the beauties of nature and those that try to reveal some human truth through nature.

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A good example of the first type might be William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (sometimes called “Daffodils”). A good example of the second type would be “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

The first describes the uplifting sight of an unexpected field of flowers, the second uses the fork of a forest road as a metaphor for difficult choices in life, leading the writer to describe the choice of taking “the road less traveled by.”

The ultimate goal is to both describe nature and reveal human truths through words.

Let’s look at a brief poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Eagle,” and see how it does both:


He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ringed with the azure world, he stands.


The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls,

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls.

The purpose here is not just to describe a large noble fierce raptor attacking, but to make the reader feel the fierce power of the bird — not just to see it but to feel it.

The “k” sounds in the first line describe the power in the talons, but note that he doesn’t say “claws” (another “k”), instead calling them hands, relating the bird to humans.

Note that the bird is elevated above us; we stand below, looking up at his majesty in “lonely lands.” The bird is “ringed by” the blue sky, as if on display. But for now he is static; he stands.

In the second verse, the power turns to fierceness. The eagle looks down from such a height that waves look like tiny wrinkles. Note that the mountain walls are HIS walls.

The key word and the key simile come in the last line: He attacks his prey “like a thunderbolt.” It is as if he is God’s thunderbolt, Zeus’s thunderbolt.

And you cannot read the word “thunderbolt” without your voice accenting it. It is the focus of the entire poem: Eagle = thunderbolt, fierce and deadly.

The dynamic words “he falls” contrast with the static words “he stands” but contain an understatement of the speed, like another word often used to describe a raptor attack: “He stoops.”

The eagle is dynamic speed and power personified. And deadly as a thunderbolt. He attacks.

Not bad for six lines. Is it coincidence that each line in the first stanza has seven words and each in the second verse has six? Are we picking up the pace?

But back to our topic: art and nature.

Is it possible to use 39 words to make the reader not just “see” the animal and scene but feel it as well? That is what a poet attempts, as a bonsai artist tries to capture the soul of a majestic wind-blown tree in a small tray, as the Elizabethan gardener tries to make the viewer appreciate how the mind and geometry — “Reason” — can apply balance and symmetry to the natural world.

All three arts reveal truths and speak to anyone with a love of nature.

And if you think we’re only dealing with the visual arts, next time it snows, play the “Winter” section of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Talk about capturing nature!

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at