I was reading from William Meredith’s Reasons for poetry in The Daily Times. When he itemizes his three reasons–the poet as dissident, the poet as apologist, and the poet as solitary–he begins with this:
The poet as dissident. Underlying poems conceived by the poet as dissident is a social criticism, whether of a tyranny, like George III’s or Stalin’s, of an abuse, like nuclear pollution, or of a system, like capitalism. As an activist poet, the dissident is likely to be formally radical, since the large metaphor of his work is revolution, but not necessarily.
I keyed in on the pollution aspect, and thought once again of the new ecocriticism going around. My heart and thoughts turned to the Native American song-poems I love in Brian Swann’s “Wearing the Morning Star“. But searching the topic brought me into the article In the green team by James Hopkin in The Guardian, a paragraph here:
[Jonathan] Bate draws upon Wordsworth as an exemplar of ecocritical thinking, for Wordsworth did not view nature in Enlightenment terms–as that which must be tamed, ordered, and utilised–but as an area to be inhabited and reflected upon. By so doing, he hoped human beings might “see into the life of things”, and reveal their place in a system of delicate relations between the human and the non-human worlds.
Here is a poem by our eco-poet William Wordsworth:
Proud were ye, Mountains, when, in times of old,
Your patriot sons, to stem invasive war,
Intrenched your brows; ye gloried in each scar:
Now, for your shame, a Power, the Thirst of Gold,
That rules o’er Britain like a baneful star,
Wills that your peace, your beauty, shall be sold,
And clear way made for her triumphal car
Through the beloved retreats your arms enfold!
Heard YE that Whistle? As her long-linked Train
Swept onwards, did the vision cross your view?
Yes, ye were startled;–and, in balance true,
Weighing the mischief with the promised gain,
Mountains, and Vales, and Floods, I call on you
To share the passion of a just disdain.
While reading Wordsworth, I thought of Chief Seattle:
A Speech by Chief Seattle (Skokomish) in 1854
“The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land.
The Great Chief also sends us words of friendship and good will. This is kind of him, since we know he has little need of our friendship in return. But we will consider your offer. For we know that if we do not sell, the white man may come with guns and take the land.
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.
The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse and the great eagle are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man–all belong to the same family.
So when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy the land, he asks much of us.
The red man has always retreated before the advancing white man, as the mist of the mountain runs before the morning sun. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next . . . the earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children . . . His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.
The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath–the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many days, he is numb to the stench . . . The air is precious to us, the air shares its spirit with the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh.
This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.
Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover–our god is the same god. You may think that you own him as you wish to own the land but you cannot. This earth is precious to the great spirit, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and one night you will suffocate in your own waste.
Your destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. The end of living and the beginning of survival.
When the last red man is vanished from this earth, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, the shores and forests will still hold the spirits of my people. For they love this earth as the newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So if we sell you our land, love it as we’ve loved it. Care for it as we’ve cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you take it. And with all your strength, with all your mind, with all your heart, preserve it for your children, and love it . . . as the Great Spirit loves us all.”
That is like a song that, whenever it comes on, I focus and listen. It is also a poem, is it not?