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The Song of the Earth

The Song of the Earth

Jonathan Bate

ISBN 9780674008182

Publication date: 03/08/2002

As we enter a new millennium ruled by technology, will poetry still matter? The Song of the Earth answers eloquently in the affirmative. A book about our growing alienation from nature, it is also a brilliant meditation on the capacity of the writer to bring us back to earth, our home.

In the first ecological reading of English literature, Jonathan Bate traces the distinctions among "nature," "culture," and "environment" and shows how their meanings have changed since their appearance in the literature of the eighteenth century. An intricate interweaving of climatic, topographical, and political elements poetically deployed, his book ranges from greenhouses in Jane Austen's novels to fruit bats in the poetry of Les Murray, by way of Thomas Hardy's woodlands, Dr. Frankenstein's Creature, John Clare's birds' nests, Wordsworth's rivers, Byron's bear, and an early nineteenth-century novel about an orangutan who stands for Parliament. Though grounded in the English Romantic tradition, the book also explores American, Central European, and Caribbean poets and engages theoretically with Rousseau, Adorno, Bachelard, and especially Heidegger.

The model for an innovative and sophisticated new "ecopoetics," The Song of the Earth is at once an essential history of environmental consciousness and an impassioned argument for the necessity of literature in a time of ecological crisis.


  • The Song of the Earth begins from readings in the ecology of literature from the eighteenth century to the present day. Jane Austen, Cowper, Hardy, Ted Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, Les Murray and others are explored for what they tell us about changing attitudes to landscape, to place, and what Bate calls, in a deliberate ecological metaphor, the ‘complex and delicate web’ that holds together culture and environment…[this book] is the best of things, a book which will help its readers to think new thoughts—thoughts about poetry, about places, and about themselves.

    —Grevel Lindop, Times Literary Supplement


  • Jonathan Bate is Professor of English Literature at the University of Warwick.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 5-3/8 x 8-1/2 inches
  • Harvard University Press