Poetry of the Forest

Poetry of the Forest: Fall Colors along the Nebo Loop between Payson, UT and HWY 132 between Nephi and Fountain Green. Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Fall Colors along the Nebo Loop between Payson, UT and HWY 132 between Nephi and Fountain Green.
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

There are people who can capture beautiful scenery by painting on canvas, using film photography, and with digital technology. And these forms of art can be visually stunning. But there is a unique perspective of visualizing when written words are read, allowing one’s mind to see not only the exterior of a scene, but the interior heart intended by the writer.

What memories does your mind recall as you listen to the words of these renowned authors about the poetry of the forest?

  • Robert Louis Stevenson – …it is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of the air, that emanation from the old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
  • John Fowles – In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them, yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.
  • Walt Whitman – Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?
  • William Wordsworth – One impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can.
  • Marcel Proust – We have nothing to fear and a great deal to learn from trees, that vigorous and Pacific tribe which without stint produces strengthening essences for us, soothing balms, and in whose gracious company we spend so many cool, silent and intimate hours.
  • Washington Irving – As the leaves of trees are said to absorb all noxious qualities of the air, and to breathe forth a purer atmosphere, so it seems to me as if they drew from us all sordid and angry passions and breathed forth peace and philanthropy. There is a severe and settled majesty in woodland scenery that enters into the soul, and dilates and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations.
  • James Henry Leigh Hunt – They refresh the commonplaces of life, shed a harmony through the busy discord, and appeal to those first sources of emotion, which are associated with the remembrance of all that is young and innocent. They seem also to present us with a portion of the tranquility we think we are laboring for.
  • Harold Monro – One summer afternoon, you find some lonely trees. Persuade your mind to drowse. Then, as your eyelids close, and you still hover into those three stages of a darkening doze, this side the barrier of sleep,…..pause. In that last clear moment open quick your sight toward where the green is bright and thick. Be sure that everything you keep to dream with is made out of trees.

    Plantng a Tree Coutesy USDA Forest Service
    Plantng a Tree
    Coutesy USDA Forest Service
    *Lucy Larcom – He who plants a tree plants a hope.

  • Henry David Thoreau – In wildness is the preservation of the world. Silence alone is worthy to be heard.
  • English Proverb – He that plants trees loves others beside himself.

     
    Credits:
    Text: Excerpts from the book, “The Forest”, compiled by Michelle Lovric https://www.amazon.co.uk/Forest-Poetry-Earth-Michelle-Levric/dp/1561385077
    Images: Courtesy USDA Forest Service
    Collector & Reader: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Lovric, Michelle, The Forest, A Celebration of Nature, In Word and Image, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Forest-Poetry-Earth-Michelle-Levric/dp/1561385077

    Poems about Trees, Academy of American Poets, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/poems-about-trees

    Search for Poems about Trees, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/search?query=trees

  • May Swenson: Observer of nature and Utah poet

    May Swenson: Observer of nature and Utah poet: Click for larger picture, May Swenson, 1965 in Tucson Copyright  L.H. Clark, Courtesy Utah State University Press
    May Swenson, 1965 in Tucson
    Copyright © L.H. Clark
    Courtesy Utah State University Press

    Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

    In Logan Cemetery a granite bench marks the grave of May Swenson, a native Utahn and eminent poet. She was born in Logan in 1913 and attended Utah State University where she published her first poem. She moved east in 1936, and eventually, she became one of America’s most inventive and recognized poets, She won many awards including Guggenheim and Rockefeller grants, the Yale Bollingen Prize, and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Utah State University conferred an honorary doctorate on Swenson in 1987. Despite her many achievements and her years living away from Utah, Swenson never forgot her Mormon heritage or her identity as a Westerner.

    Nature played a prominent role in Swenson’s work. In fact, she published a collection of poetry called Nature: Poems Old and New which is brimming with imagery that evokes the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

    Here’s an example: a poem called April Light read by Paul Crumbley, a professor of English at Utah State University who specializes in Swenson’s work.

    April light
    Lined with light
    the twigs are stubby arrows.
    A gilded trunk writhes
    Upward from the roots,
    from the pit of the black tentacles.
    In the book of spring
    a bare-limbed torso
    is the first illustration.
    Light teaches the tree
    to beget leaves,
    to embroider itself all over
    with green reality,
    until summer becomes
    its steady portrait
    and birds bring their lifetime
    to the boughs.
    Then even the corpse
    light copies from below
    may shimmer, dreaming it feels
    the cheeks of blossom.

    Another of Swenson’s poems describes a well-known natural feature in Utah.

    Listen to this excerpt of Above Bear Lake:

    A breeze, and the filtered light makes shine
    A million bristling quills of spruce and fir
    Downslope, where slashes of sky and lake
    Hang blue—windows of intense stain. We take
    The rim trail, crushing bloom of sage,
    Sniffing resinous wind, our boots in the wild,
    Small, everycolored Rocky Mountain flowers.
    Suddenly, a steep drop-off: below we see the whole,
    the whale of it—deep, enormous blue—
    that widens, while the sky slants back to pale

    behind a watercolored mountain.

    Listening to this makes me feel like I’m standing on the scenic outlook at the summit of Logan Canyon. That is, of course, where Swenson wrote it.

    For more on the Utah poet May Swenson, see our website www.wildaboututah.org
    Thanks to Paul Crumbley and Maria Melendez of the English Dept. at Utah State University.
    And thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development for today’s program.

    For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

    Credits:

    Readings: Paul Crumbley and Maria Melendez of the English Dept, Utah State University

    Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

    Learn More:

    Knudson, R.R. and Suzzanne Bigelow. 1996. May Swenson: A Poet’s Life in Photos. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

    Boxelder Bug Poetry

    Boxelder Bugs
    Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture

    Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

    Bill Holm, author, poet and essayist from Minnesota, died last week. He wrote and taught in the English department at Southwest Minnesota State University for 27 years. Why I do I mention this on a program about Utah nature? Because through his writing, he helped me come to terms with one aspect of Utah nature that I found troublesome at first —the ubiquitous and abundant boxelder bug.

    “My boxelder bugs have odd preferences,” Holm wrote “They love radio dials, phonograph speakers, amplifiers, pianos, and harpsichords. Some would argue that this is because of the warmth and vibrations, but I prefer to think it is because of their taste for Bach and Vivaldi.”

    The red and white bugs are essentially harmless. They might stain walls or carpets if you squish them. However, they are annoying primarily because they enter homes and other buildings in large numbers. Once in, they’ll find their way into your personal effects. Like your hair or your toothbrush or the glass of water you keep on the bedside table.

    After hearing me go on a boxelder bug rant, a friend gave me Holm’s book Boxelder Bug Variations: A meditation of an idea in language and music. It changed my attitude toward with household invaders, as now I think of them as poetic. Maybe if I read a few verses, you will feel the same:
    First, a boxelder bug prayer:

    I want so little
    For so little time
    A south window,
    A wall to climb,
    The smell of coffee,
    A radio knob,
    Nothing to eat,
    Nothing to rob,
    Not love, not power,
    Not even a penny,
    Forgive me only
    For being so many.

    In this one, Holm describes a method for disposing boxelder bugs:

    Take two bricks.
    Creep deliberately up
    Behind the boxelder bug,
    Being careful not to sing—
    This will alert him.
    In a graceful flowing gesture,
    Something like a golf swing
    Or reaching for your lover in the dark,
    Gather up the boxelder bug
    On the surface of the left brick
    Bringing the right brick
    At the same time firmly down
    Together with the left brick.
    There will be a loud crashing,
    Like broken cymbals,
    Maybe a breaking of brick, and
    If you are not careful,
    Your own voice rising.
    When the brick dust has settled
    And you have examined your own hands,
    Carefully,
    You will not see the boxelder bug,
    There is a small hole in the brick
    And he is exploring it,
    Calmly, like a millionaire
    In an antique shop.

    And finally, three boxelder bug haiku:

    (1) Careful if you kill him!
    There may be an afterlife
    For both of you.
    (2) Those black spots in your lamp?
    Only bugs who didn’t make it
    Into the next world.

    And finally…

    (3) The piano string stops trembling
    But boxelder bugs
    Keep dancing.

    Thanks to Jen Levy for introducing me to boxelder bug poetry, and to Milkweed Editions for permission to reproduce Bill Holm’s work.

    The Rocky Mountain Power Foundation supports research and development of Wild About Utah topics.

    For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

    Credits:

    Photo: Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture

    Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

    Sources & Additional Reading

    Boxelder Bug Variations: A Meditation on an Idea in Language and Music, Holm, Bill, 1985, Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions http://www.milkweed.org/

    Boxelder Bugs Fact Sheet, Erin Hodgson, Alan H. Roe, USU Cooperative Extension:
    http://extension.usu.edu/files/factsheets/boxelder.pdf