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.
[Bate] establishes the reality of the ecological theme in English poetry. Building on a broad literature in philosophy and biology as well as literary studies, Bate defines ecological poetry as that which ‘sees into the life of things’ (Wordsworth) but also respects the integrity of the physical world… This book has a powerful impact… [Bates’s] moral concerns, deeply held and deeply considered, never blur the sharp edges of literary or natural fact. His readings are compelling rediscoveries of poems we thought we knew already… The Song of the Earth fairly hums with intelligence and passion. It is itself a demonstration of the interplay between literature and nature that it celebrates. It could change your life.
Jonathan Bate’s The Song of the Earth provides a visionary agenda for all subsequent ecocritical writing. Bate has broadened the intellectual and critical foundation of his earlier ecocritical work… When Bate masters historical evidence and insightful analyses of discrete Romantic writing, as he does in [the chapter] Major Weather, he achieves a broad authority that is captivating and seductive.
This ambitious, erudite critical study…seeks to recast Romantic poetry from the Wordsworthian ‘egotistical sublime’ to an ecological one. Romantic literature’s love of nature, its fierce individualism and its political radicalism make it a plausible candidate for planting the seeds of the Green movement… Amplifying on his astute readings of [poetry], Bate formulates his own idea of ‘ecopoesis,’ a poetics of human habitation within nature, instead of pastoralism’s façade.
- 360 pages
- 5-3/8 x 8-1/2 inches
- Harvard University Press
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