Back from the ``far field'': Speaking of (and for) nature in the work of three contemporary American poets

Bernard W Quetchenbach, Purdue University


This dissertation posits that Robert Bly, Gary Snyder, and Wendell Berry can be considered as contemporary American "nature poets," for whom the source and basis of poetry is immanent in the amalgam of processes and organisms known collectively as "nature." The dissertation begins by comparing the three poets to prose natural history writers, particularly those who, following the example of Thoreau, attempt to see nature both as an "other" essentially independent of the human observer, and as a complex system incorporating the observer. Natural history writers share with Bly, Snyder, and Berry the belief that the nonhuman environment offers essential knowledge, both practical and spiritual.^ Contemporary poets and critics have generally agreed that a salient feature of contemporary poetry is its concentration on the quotidian experience of the poet him- or herself. What James E. B. Breslin has called a "poetry of immediacy" has led to contemporary poets' apparent inability to make lasting statements about public issues and concerns. A parallel problem has been faced by natural history writers: how to make the "meaning" in one's personal, and perhaps atypical, experience accessible to others.^ The increasing awareness of environmental degradation has led many natural history writers and poets such as Bly, Snyder, and Berry to become advocates speaking on behalf of what Snyder calls a "constituency." Each of the three poets identifies his constituency in different terms, but a significant area of overlap includes "nonhuman" nature: the processes of air, earth, and water, and the plants and animals depending on and evolving with them. Aided by increased environmental awareness, each of the three has attempted to develop a "platform" from which to speak for their respective constituencies. ^




Major Professors: Neil Myers, Purdue University, Wendy Flory, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature, American

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