Earth Day 2022 comes in the same month that the United Nations issued a particularly dire warning that it is “now or never” to act to stop the damage we are doing to our planet from runaway greenhouse gas emissions inflict
And while the governments of many countries, including the UK, seem to be opting for the ‘never’ option, it’s worth pausing and examining why the existence of a healthy, functioning nature is not just a prerequisite for human life, but is also a source of inspiration for humans that has not waned throughout the existence of our species.
Earth Day is meant to be an opportunity for us to celebrate our planet, not just another day to remind us how much we abuse it.
So to emphasize that concerted action to protect what we have, writers, is worth taking The Independent have selected some of their favorite poems that relate in some way to the natural world. Enjoy.
The Sick Rose by William Blake
O Rose, you are sick.
the invisible worm
That flies at night
In the howling storm:
found your bed
Of crimson delight:
And his dark secret love
destroys your life
This enigmatic short poem, just 34 words in two stanzas, appeared in the visionary romantic poet’s 1794 Songs of Experience and could stand as a metaphor for many things, but is most obviously about the agony of watching the suffering of a loved one whom one helpless to intervene.
But Blake’s Sick Rose could stand for the whole natural world in microcosm, the “invisible worm” representing the forces of pollution conspiring to undermine and endanger it. A poignant thought from a poet who wrote and illustrated his verses at the dawn of the industrial revolution. Joe Sommerlad, reporter
Ghosts On My Tongue by Kat Lyons
I was a book kid
Chased new words like butterflies, discovered them
Pinned to novels at my local library
sneaked up to her
As they flapped
On the fringes of adult conversation
Shyly evading my simple understanding
I learned a new word the other day-
The term has echoes of Tolkien
An 80’s kid, I imagine, spoken with a Skeki’s croak
The ling suffix adds a little charm
To make it sound sweet
As well as fantastic
It’s none of those things
It is the word for a creature that is the last of its kind
This long drawn out moment was measured
In a heartbeat
The inhalation/exhalation of a single pair of lungs
Before the extinction wave hits
I roll it between my lips
This loneliest of all words
It tastes like ash
ghosts on my tongue
I chose this poem because it points to the unbearable pain I sometimes feel as I deal with the devastating destruction of nature my generation has inflicted on our precious earth.
And because I believe we must open ourselves to this deep pain, we can summon the courage necessary to stand up for them and become peaceful warriors for their protection and restoration.
It is possible for us to withdraw from the swaying abyss and leave our rightful inheritance to future generations of humans and fellow creatures of a thriving, teeming natural world.
Let no more endlings take their last devastating breath. Donnachadh McCarthy, columnist
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You don’t have to be good.
You don’t have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the wilderness, doing penance.
You just have to let the soft animal off your body
Tell me about your despair and I will tell you about mine.
Meanwhile, the world keeps turning.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain
wander through the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
go back home.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination
Calls on you like the wild geese, rugged and exciting –
keep announcing your place
in the family of things.
With trillions of possibilities, billions of galaxies, and millions of years, what are the odds that you are here as you read this article?
How often do I forget to enjoy the wonders of existence when caught in the banality of everyday life.
Wild Geese is my reminder that the safest return home is to be found in nature. Rita Issa, columnist
Guide to not giving up by Ada Limón
More than the fuchsia funnels that erupt
of the crab apple tree, more than that of the neighbor
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy flowers to the slate
Spring rain sky, it’s the green of the trees
that really pisses me off. If all white shock
and toffee, the baubles and trinkets of the world
the sidewalk strewn with the confetti of the aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, ponderous, green skin
grows a return over all that winter has done to us
despite the strange idea of continuous life
our mess, the pain, the emptiness. Fine then,
I take it, the tree seems to say, a new smooth leaf
I unfold like a fist on an open palm, I’ll take anything.
Ada LimonsGuide to not giving up speaks to me of the resilience of nature and the human spirit – it is a brief, sharp reminder of the beauty of the world even when shrouded in pain. As we emerge from the pandemic, as we continue the fight to protect our planet; This poem feels like a totem: a reminder of what’s even worth saving. Victoria Richards, Senior Commissioning Editor at Indy Voices and poet. A collection of her work Primers IV, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2019.
The Tree Contract by Elise Paschen
The neighbor calls the Siberian elm
a “weed” tree, requires us to chop it
it down says the leaves overwhelm
his property, the square backyard.
He’s collar-and-tie. A weed tree?
branches shield buildings, subway tracks,
his piece of yard. we do not agree
reclaim the sap, heartwood and wild bark.
He declares the tree “dangerous”.
We shelter under hoards of leaves, across
for squirrels, branch house for sparrows, jays.
The balcony provides shade.
Chatter song drowns out cars below.
Sun branches down. leaves overwhelm.
The tree will stay. We tell him “no”.
Root deep through pavement, elm.
There is a large London plane tree in my mother’s garden that has grown with us over the years. This poem reminds me of some of the little scuffles she had with the neighbors and why keeping the tree intact was always so important to us.
The comfort that a favorite tree or piece of nature can bring has become even more apparent during lockdown. I think this poem speaks to the need to preserve those little reminders of the natural world as well as the larger issue of deforestation. A report published last week by Frontiers in Forests and Global Change magazine found that only 3 percent of the Earth’s surface is ecologically sound.
We hope that eventually we will approach deforestation with the same defiance as the poem’s final line: “Root deep through pavement, elm.” Emma Snaith, audience editor
The Stone Glider by Alice Oswald
Down through the two little fields
It disturbs the short-sighted flies that it touches
the restless thistles, their dried skins clinging to their bones.
brimming blooming darkening decreasing.
Under the thistles and the whipping puddles of the wind
he walks, he can almost feel it
the spent hide of his flesh, a seed spirit in a squall
doomed to float in endlessly expanding circles.
Eyeless stones, their stillness swells and breathes easily in the water,
scarcely move in the laps of the rivers.
His mind was so hectic and sloppy, full of forms
brimming blooming fading:
in the five inch space between heaven and sky
he just flies over a stone
contact with water, the amazing length
The light’s power, which has slid down, lifts up again and again
I grew up in the Wye Valley and used to swim regularly in one of the Wye’s tributaries – the Monnow – which we reached by walking through fields full of cattle down to the river bank where chamomile grew in abundance. Here, when I was a child, I learned to skim stones, slide down, lean low and swaying rocks over the surface of the river. Both the Wye and the Monnow are now seriously threatened by pollution. Harry Cockburn – Environmental Correspondent
https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/earth-day-poems-nature-climate-b2060941.html Poems celebrating Earth Day 2022 selected by independent climate and environment writers