Since the origins of poetry itself, many of literature’s greatest poets have paid homage to nature with their words. From a single bending blade of grass to the starry expanse of the night sky, and everything in between, composers of verse have been humbled, and moved, and inspired by the beauty, the complexity, and the surprises of the natural world — and they’ve written the poetry to prove it. So this Earth Day (Friday, April 22, for everyone keeping track!) one perfect way to mark the holiday is by reading some gorgeous poetry about nature and the environment.
With this year marking the 46th anniversary of Earth Day, the issues facing our environment have never been more pressing — or more politicized — than they are today. But while you’re rallying for things like cleaner water, greener living, reforestation, and increased protection of endangered species — to name only a few — it’s just as important to remember to celebrate the amazing environment you’re trying to save. For better or for worse, the world is still a pretty darn beautiful place, after all.
1. A Bird Came Down the Walk by Emily Dickinson
A bird came down the walk:He did not know I saw;He bit an angle-worm in halvesAnd ate the fellow, raw.And then he drank a dewFrom a convenient grass,And then hopped sidewise to the wallTo let a beetle pass.He glanced with rapid eyesThat hurried all abroad, —They looked like frightened beads, I thought;He stirred his velvet headLike one in danger; cautious,I offered him a crumb,And he unrolled his feathersAnd rowed him softer homeThan oars divide the ocean,Too silver for a seam,Or butterflies, off banks of noon,Leap, plashless, as they swim.
— Emily Dickinson, A Bird Came Down the Walk
2. The Way Through The Woods by Rudyard Kipling
They shut the road through the woods Seventy years ago. Weather and rain have undone it again,And now you would never know There was once a path through the woods Before they planted the trees: It is underneath the coppice and heath,And the thin anemones.Only the keeper sees That, where the ring-dove broods And the badgers roll at ease, There was once a road through the woods. Yet, if you enter the woods Of a summer evening late, When the night-air cools on the trout-ring’d pools Where the otter whistles his mate (They fear not men in the woods Because they see so few), You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet And the swish of a skirt in the dew,Steadily cantering through The misty solitudes, As though they perfectly knew The old lost road through the woods ... But there is no road through the woods.
— Rudyard Kipling, The Way Through The Woods
3. A Minor Bird by Robert Frost
I have wished a bird would fly away,And not sing by my house all day;Have clapped my hands at him from the doorWhen it seemed as if I could bear no more.The fault must partly have been in me.The bird was not to blame for his key.And of course there must be something wrongIn wanting to silence any song.
— Robert Frost, A Minor Bird
4. October by Louise Glück
Is it winter again, is it cold again,didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planteddidn’t the night end,didn’t the melting iceflood the narrow gutterswasn’t my bodyrescued, wasn’t it safedidn’t the scar form, invisibleabove the injuryterror and cold,didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back gardenharrowed and planted —I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,didn’t vines climb the south wallI can’t hear your voicefor the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare groundI no longer carewhat sound it makeswhen was I silenced, when did it first seempointless to describe that soundwhat it sounds like can’t change what it is —didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earthsafe when it was planteddidn’t we plant the seeds,weren’t we necessary to the earth,the vines, were they harvested?
— Louise Glück, October
5. Of Many Worlds in This World by Margaret Cavendish
Just like as in a nest of boxes round,Degrees of sizes in each box are found:So, in this world, may many others beThinner and less, and less still by degree:Although they are not subject to our sense,A world may be no bigger than two-pence.Nature is curious, and such works may shape,Which our dull senses easily escape:For creatures, small as atoms, may there be,If every one a creature’s figure bear.If atoms four, a world can make, then seeWhat several worlds might in an ear-ring be:For, millions of those atoms may be inThe head of one small, little, single pin.And if thus small, then ladies may well wearA world of worlds, as pendents in each ear./
— Margaret Cavendish, Of Many Worlds in This World
6. The Humble-bee by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Burly dozing humblebee!Where thou art is clime for me.Let them sail for Porto Rique,Far-off heats through seas to seek,I will follow thee alone,Thou animated torrid zone!Zig-zag steerer, desert-cheerer,Let me chase thy waving lines,Keep me nearer, me thy hearer,Singing over shrubs and vines.Insect lover of the sun,Joy of thy dominion!Sailor of the atmosphere,Swimmer through the waves of air,Voyager of light and noon,Epicurean of June,Wait I prithee, till I comeWithin ear-shot of thy hum, — All without is martyrdom.When the south wind, in May days,With a net of shining haze,Silvers the horizon wall,And, with softness touching all,Tints the human countenanceWith a color of romance,And, infusing subtle heats,Turns the sod to violets,Thou in sunny solitudes,Rover of the underwoods,The green silence dost displace,With thy mellow breezy bass.Hot midsummer's petted crone,Sweet to me thy drowsy tune,Telling of countless sunny hours,Long days, and solid banks of flowers,Of gulfs of sweetness without boundIn Indian wildernesses found,Of Syrian peace, immortal leisure,Firmest cheer and bird-like pleasure.Aught unsavory or unclean,Hath my insect never seen,But violets and bilberry bells,Maple sap and daffodels,Grass with green flag half-mast high,Succory to match the sky,Columbine with horn of honey,Scented fern, and agrimony,Clover, catch fly, adders-tongue,And brier-roses dwelt among;All beside was unknown waste,All was picture as he passed.Wiser far than human seer,Yellow-breeched philosopher!Seeing only what is fair,Sipping only what is sweet,Thou dost mock at fate and care,Leave the chaff and take the wheat,When the fierce north-western blastCools sea and land so far and fast,Thou already slumberest deep, — Woe and want thou canst out-sleep, — Want and woe which torture us,Thy sleep makes ridiculous.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Humble-bee
7. Remember by Joy Harjo
Remember the sky that you were born under,know each of the star’s stories.Remember the moon, know who she is.Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is thestrongest point of time. Remember sundownand the giving away to night.Remember your birth, how your mother struggledto give you form and breath. You are evidence ofher life, and her mother’s, and hers.Remember your father. He is your life, also.Remember the earth whose skin you are:red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earthbrown earth, we are earth.Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have theirtribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,listen to them. They are alive poems.Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows theorigin of this universe.Remember you are all people and all peopleare you.Remember you are this universe and thisuniverse is you.Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.Remember language comes from this.Remember the dance language is, that life is.Remember.
— Joy Harjo, Remember