For centuries, artists interpreted, celebrated, and analyzed nature in their works. Nature, as a theme, often accompanies a sense of awe and majesty, translating the feeling of standing among mountains or gazing out onto the ocean. The topic endures as a popular motif for artists around the world. Alongside these artistic endeavors, the effort to preserve the Earth and its ecosystem continues as a growing pursuit among both great influential figures and the common person alike.
In 1969, a large oil spill ravaged Santa Barbara, California. Spurred on by this devastating event, Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin junior senator, proposed a day recognizing the effort to preserve and renew the threatened balance of the Earth’s ecological systems from the impact of pollution and unsustainable industries. Thus, Congress set aside April 22 of each year to serve as Earth Day for this very purpose, a date landing between spring break and final exams for most college students, as Nelson wanted the effort to be picked up by the student anti-war movement of the time. The year 2020 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. Since its start, Earth Day has been celebrated with a growing turnout and inclusion of activities such as rallies, volunteer cleanups, conservation and sustainable living classes, and more. The notion that protecting the Earth undermines the pleasure and convenience of people to a point of no approach contradicts the reality that humans depend on the health of the planet for the wellbeing of society. The preservation of the environment grows as an imperative topic of both discourse and action. Earth Day provides a time for reflection on the great beauty of God’s creation and how mankind can work together to further steward and sustain it as God instructs in Genesis.
Humanity’s well documented romantic relationship with creation inspires those who wish the source of such art to carry on to future generations. Poetry executes one of the best illustrations of the sublimity of nature. Three classic poets, in particular, stunningly capture the essence of nature and the emotions resulting from its beauty.
The first poem to note is appropriately named “Nature” by Henry David Thoreau. A naturalist, poet, author, and philosopher, Thoreau’s work reflects on simple living and continues to resonate with modern readers. Find one of his most famous poems written below.
O Nature! I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy quire,—
To be a meteor in the sky,
Or comet that may range on high;
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low;
Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.
In some withdrawn, unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods, with leafy din,
Whisper the still evening in:
Some still work give me to do,—
Only—be it near to you!
For I’d rather be thy child
And pupil, in the forest wild, Than be the king of men elsewhere,
And most sovereign slave of care:
To have one moment of thy dawn,
Than share the city’s year forlorn.
Thoreau expresses his wish to live amidst nature, with work to do, yet with a sense of slight solitude. The poem captures his desire to exist humbly among men rather than live in grandeur and power. These two aspects mirror his values of simple living and mindfulness which remain wonderful practices for focusing on what is essential to an individual in humility and selflessness.
Penned by William Woodsworth, the second poem on the list, entitled “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” reminiscences on the author’s own experiences in nature. Wordsworth, an English poet during the Romantic era, is well known for using themes of nature in his work which have endured in popularity among readers.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
The poem above highlights Wordsworth’s love and detailed perception of nature. His illustration of daffodils, stars, lakes, and waves jump off the page and give an incredibly clear picture of the perspective he is describing. Near the end of the poem, the author recalls experience out in nature while away from it, which touches on a nuanced experience of reflection – reflection on memories of travels out in the splendors of Earth. Once again, the poet translates mindfulness from the reverence of nature’s beauty. The third and final poem entitled “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, opened a collection of his poems called Mountain Interval in 1916, and employs both references of nature and personal reflection. Frost, an American poet, used wildlife as a theme in many of his works which remain favorites among readers today.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This poem denotes an important value in life, as well as in the pursuit of environmental conservation: the effort to take the road less traveled. Frost beautifully illustrates his journey and his choice to travel the road not taken. In the second line, he writes a notable reality that in one’s journey, coming across a split path, one often cannot travel down both or know what either will bring. Trial and error and a dose of wisdom establish the reality of a path and distinguishes the path one truly desires to take. It is easier to take the well-traveled road where one may have an idea of what to expect and may, in fact, be expected to travel that road, but the road less traveled, though scarier at first, may lead to a greater outcome. Sometimes, in the face of the world, the right decision is the road less traveled.
As stewards of the Earth and pursuers of Christ, it is important we reflect upon the paths that lie ahead and determine whether the road less traveled reaps a harvest akin to Christ. It is critical, now more than ever, to not only recognize Earth Day and the state of the planet but take what is learned forward and live every day in a manner that is mindful of the impact one’s actions have on the environment. As a collective, humanity has made significant progress in adopting practices that better steward the Earth, but much more needs to be done. Environmental conservation, though often the road less traveled, shapes humanity’s continued wellbeing. To sustain the beauty of Earth is to further the inspiration for art, such as poetry, which marvels in the majesty of God’s creation. Ralph Waldo Emerson beautifully accentuates these sentiments with the reminder that, “what lies behind us, and what lies before of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Written by Kayla
Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” Poetry Foundation, n.d.
Rogers, Kathleen. “The History of Earth Day.” Earth Day, 10 Oct. 2019.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Nature.” Academy of American Poets, n.d.
Wordsworth, William. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Poetry Foundation, n.d. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45521/i-wandered-lonely-as-a-cloud.