nature poetry - Emporia State University

nature poetry - Emporia State University

NATURE POETRY John Breukelman that spring should vanish with the rose! 2 Sumer is icumen in 3 What flowers are these? 4 The common sun, the air, t...

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John Breukelman

that spring should vanish with the rose! 2 Sumer is icumen in

3 What flowers are these? 4 The common sun, the air, the skies

5 The swan on still St. Mary's Lake

6 From Greenland's icy mountains 7 thou deep and dark blue ocean

8 The Owl and the Pussy-Cat


Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing

10 like moonbeams on a river 11 purple mountain majesties

12 the wild geese sailing high


Wild flowers on the hills

14 beasts with kingly eyes 15 Trail with daisies and barley

Vol. 20

The Kansas School Naturalist


No . 2

Kansas State Teachers College


Emporia , Kansas

The Kansas

School N aturalist Published by

The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia Prepared and Issued by The Department of Biology, with

the cooperation of the Division of Education

Editor: Robert J. Boles Editorial Committee: James S. Wilson. Gilbert A. Leisman. Harold Durst. Robert F. Clarke

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of

charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and ad­

ministrators, librarians, conservationists, YOlith leaders, and

other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are

sent free as long as supply lasts, except Vol. 5, No.3, Poisonous

Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for

25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School

Naturalist, Department of Biology, Kansas State Teachers

College, Em poria, Kansas, 66801.

The Kansas Schoo! Naturalist is published in October, Decem­

ber, February, and April of each year by The Kansas State

Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas,

66801. Second-class postage paid at Em poria, Kansas.

"Statement required by the Act of October, 1962: Section 4369, Title 39, United States Code, showing Ownership, \[anngement and Circulation." The Kansas School Natunllist is published in October, December, February, and ApriL Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. The Naturalist is edited and published by the Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Editor, Hobert J. Boles, Department of Biology.


John Breukelman

Professor Emeritus of Biology

Kansas State Teachers College

"To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks A various language.. ."

So wrote the youthful William Cullen Bryant in 1821; indeed, nature does speak a various language. Those who love nature return the compliment, writing and speaking about her in various forms. such as prose, poetry, and as Judith Jacobs has said , "prose-related writings with overtones of verse." Much of the world's poetry is nature-oriented. As is hinted by the quotations on the front cover of this number of The Kansas School Naturalist , this has been true from the early days of English writing. Some nature poetry is entirely or mainly descriptive, as for example, THE SEASONS, by James Thomson (1700-1748). "The daisy, primrose, violet darkly blue, And polyanthus of unnumbered dyes . . "

More often, nature poetry makes use of figurative language, allusion , symbolism, and indirection, in order to set the stage for the expression of experience that goes beyond mere description. Thus MEETING AT NIGHT , by Robert Browning 0812-1889) , begins with. "The gray sea and the long black land; And the yellow half-moon large and low.

as though it might be only a description of a marine landscape . But it closes wi th these lines. "And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears, Than the two hearts beating, each to each."

So the first lines are not merely descriptive, but also the introduction to a trip , by rowboat and on foot, that leads to the meeting of sweethearts. Most nature poetry, by the use of words descriptive of plants , animals, oceans, mountains , deserts , woods , and all the other endlessly varied features of our surroundings, really deals with love, patriotism, religion, and what-not, expressed in such a way as to appeal to the emotions. I am presenting here some representative samples of nature poetry , from the classics to the present, and written by both children and adults. I really have no "favorite" but if I had to pick one just for the record it would probably be this untitled one (No. 1052) by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), reprinted here exactly as she wrote it, and as it appears in the Johnson Edition. Miss Dickinson , well known for her short meaning-packed poems, lived most of her life as a near recluse in Amherst, Massachusetts, Only three or four of her nearly 1800 poems were published during her lifetime.

I never saw a Moor­

I never saw the Sea-

Yet know I how the Heather looks

And what a Billow be.

I never spoke with God

Nor visited in Heaven-

Yet certain am I of the spot

As if the Checks were given-

Heprinted b,v permisSion of the publisher s and the Tru st ees of

Amherst from Thomas H. Johnson. Editor. THE POEMS OF EMiLY orCKI'\SO\i. Cambridge. Mass.: The Belknap Pres> of Harv
Pres id e nl and Fello\\!s of Harvard College.

To me the exquisite little jewel of nature poetry is FOG, by Carl Sandburg 0878-1971), Illinois poet who wrote eight books of poetry, received a Pulitzer Prize for his historical work on Lincoln, and was characterized by Untermeyer as a "guitar-playing anachronism , an ancient Viking who speaks and sings with a mid-western drawl. "

FOG The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on. Prom CHICAGO POENIS bv' Carl Sa ndburg . cop\'right. tat6. bv' Holt. Rinehal'l and \Vin:-;{on, Jne. : r enewed. 1944. by Ca rl Sandburg. Heprinled by perll1is~ion of Hart ourt Brace


Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) wrote seven books of poetry, including many of high lyric quality and many of interest to children. It has been said of her that " her mood-provoking poems are her biography. " I have particularly enjoyed STARS. STARS Alone in the night On a dark hill With pines around me Spicy and still And a heaven full of stars Over my head, White and topaz And misty red; Myriads with beating Hearts of fi re That aeons Cannot vex or tire; Up the dome of heaven Like a great hill, I watch them marching Stately and still And know that I Am hOnored to be Witness Of so much majesty,

Heprinted bv' permi SSion from COLLECTED POEMS 01 Sara Teasdale. cop.\Tight 1920 b," The LVIacmil!all Campan,Y_ rene\\'ed

t948 bv MamieT. Wheless.

Judith Alymere Jacobs, who retired from KSTC in 1964, taught Education in the college and English and drama in Roosevelt High School ; she now lives on the family farm \Solbakken) near Hudson , Wisconsin. Here are five examples from her almost 800 " prose­ related writings with overtones of verse" that have been published.

EARLY WINTER How silent the day;

how sterile the mold.

How quiet the elm;

how bitter the cOld.

How grey the clouds;

how massive, how low;

hunched--ready to leap

with a burst of snow.



April is a song

Stirring in the harp-like branch

Of a cherry tree.


A lone "Eagle,"

talons and wings outspread,

descends to its craggy aerie­

the Moon.



Dark clouds ,

project your gloom;

for if you hover low,

frost may not nip our late asters


The farmer displayed his red fox pelts;

proudly he showed his goodly lot.

Saved field mice squeaked their grateful cheers-­

then ate their benefactor's crop.

Rep r inted b.\' permi ss ion from the first. lhi r d. and si xth bookie" in Ihe se ries AR OU\" D SOLB.\KKE\" : c opvrig hl 1967 . 19ti9 . and 1972 b~' Judi t h A I,\' mere Jacobs.

Richard Dorer, who wrote THE FOREST MONARCH , is the retired chief of Minnesota 's Bureau of Game. He helped to establish the first soil conservation districts in his state and was the father of the "Save Minnesota Wetlands " program under which some 250,000 acres are being set aside for wildlife habitat.

THE FOREST MONARCH The wilderness was gorgeously arrayed In Autumn's radiant robes of every shade And I stood in its midst, a towering tree, Fashioned to fullness by the Deity Who clothed me in a most alluring gown And raised my spire above the forest's crown.

Reprinled b,' permiss io n from TH E CHOST TRF: E SPEAKS b,\' Richard J. Dorer: c opyright 1964. R os!' and Ha illes. InC'. The acc ompany ing drawing is b~' Walter J . Breckenridge. retired dire c tor at the Uni v ersit~ · of Min n e~ola i\'Iuseum of \a'tural Hislor,\'. who is well }.;nown throughout Kansa s S<:hooL ' aluralisllerl'itor~'

fo r

hi ~

Audubon Screen Tours.

Kenneth P or ter , Professor E meritus of COYOTE History at t he University of Oregon, was born near Sterling , Kansas, and W?S on the faculty W,e check our.ponies. "Look" says he of Southwes tern College, Winfie ld , from 1936 to "A coyote!" "Where?" my strained eyes ask 1938. The following view of the coyote is from vainly. And then the feral mask hi s book, The High Plains. slit eyes and lolling tongue, I see of that lean prairie-wolf, the one fit genius of the desert-land , with pelt as yellow as the sand and eyes as golden as the sun. And still across the barren plain , the dust and dazzle of the years, his pOinted muzzle and prick-ears are etched fang-sharp upon my brain .

CopYrig ht 1938, bv Kenneth Porter ', reprinted from THE HIG H PL.A. I:"JS b~1 Kenneth Porter . by permiSSion of The Joh n Da,v Compan y . publi sher.

With brush held low, a swift gray-brown wind-shadow in the faded grass , he vanishes-none sees him pass­ on feet of steel and thistle-down .

Verne N. Rockcas tle , who gave us this view of the chip munk , is a P rofessor of Science Educa tion a t Cornell University. He was for several years t he edi tor of the Cornell Science Leaflet , which was the pattern for The Kansas School Naturalist. CHIPMUNK

Furry, striped friend with mumps

Who catches berries under st!Jmps,

How do you fare beneath the snow

When wintry blasts begin to blow?

I watched your summer's scurried reaping

Of seeds and nuts and, for your sleeping,

Mouthfuls of leafy bits and bark

To keep you snug in frigid dark .

They say you doze till winter's past,

That though you hoard enough to last

For several seasons underground ,

There's plenty left when spring rolls 'round .

Why, then, insist on frenzied forage

When half as much is ample storage?

Reprinled fr om Co rnell Sde nce Lea rl et. Vol. 57. No.3. Marc h 1964. by pe r mi ss ion of the author. who also sup plied the ac company ing photograph .

Gary Snyder , who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California , tries to speak for the non-human realms in his poems. He held Bolligen and Guggenheim Fellowships and has received several poetry award. WITHOUT is [rom his recent book MANZANITA.

One of the best known of Japanese haiku was written in 1686 by the famous poet Basho (1644-1694 ), who is thought to have started writing at the age of nine. Translated literally, this haiku goes: Old pond; frog jump in, water-sound.


In English, this does not meet the 5-7-5 requirement, but in Japanese it does:

the silence

of nature


the power within.

the power


The path is whatever passes-no end in itself. the end is,



not saving.

singing. the proof

the proof of the power within.

F rom ~IA\ZA \ ITA b" Gal'" Sm"del". reprint ed with the permis...; ioll of Gar." Snyder.

coplTight 1972

HAIKU I became fascinated with haiku ( both singular and plural) when I first encountered them in a college English course. In its strict arrangement this Japanese verse form consists of three lines, of seven teem syllables arranged 5-7-5. The haiku I turned in for my class assignment was: Japanese haiku­

five syllables, then seven,

and then five again.

Furu-ike-ya kawazu tobi-komu mizu-no-oto. From the oook A\ I\T RODUCTIO\ TO HAIK U b,' Harold G. Hend el':-:on : (·op.nighl 19:i8 . reprint ed wi th the permis~ io n or Doublcda \" & Campan.\", I ~<: .

Two of my favorite haiku are the opener, by Buso n (1715-1783), and the clos ing one, by Sora (1648-1710 ), in Cherry Blossoms, which is Series III of a four-part se t. NEW YEAR'S EVE I can snore in peace. the New Year won't confront me till tomorrow noon . DEATH SONG On the last long road when I fall and fail to rise. I'll bed with flowers. il epr int ed from CHF.RRY BLO SSO~I S. JAPA\F.SE HAIK U. SERIF.S III. tra n, laled b,' Pel el' Be ilen,o n: cop.night 191i0 b.l· The Peter Pauper Press.

Because of the shortness, haiku mu st depend on suggestion and allusion; they cannot give detailed descriptions. This very limitation, however, makes a haiku an interes ting way to express a quick impression , a snapshot as it were , of a natural feature . I have had a lot of fun doing haiku , a few samples of which follow .

CYPRESS Why should the cypress standing forever in place have, of all things , knees?


BEAVER The eager beaver

who carved this aspen sculpture

followed nature's plan .

Mythical creature?

No-the once essential roots

of a fallen spruce.

Equally at home in the woods , or in the towns ~~~U'IJ raiding garbage cans.

ICE A Kansas ice storm

comes with a gift of beauty­

also destruction.

DAFFODIL TOGETHER Neptune and driftwood , how came you thus together on the Georgia beach?

Unrequited love, nemesis for Narcissus, bright orange, yellow.

CHILDREN AND POETRY Children seem to have natural affinity for poetry. They not only like the rhythms of the Mother Goose Rhymes and other "children 's poems " but many, if not most , of them like to make up verses themselves. I was one of these ; the oldest "poem" I still have in my possession was written in 1911, when I was at the ripe age of ten. It goes like this: Snowflakes look like stars, Some flowers look like moons, The wind sounds like a coyote, And the rain makes drumming tunes.

must have had help from an understanding teacher , because in the Dakota plains where I grew up snow was something you used to make snow men, or to build snow forts for snowball battles , or something you had to shovel out of the way-not to be compared with stars. My next one was a year later; by then I had adopted the "Little Bo­ Peep" format:

SHEP Myoid dog Shep Has lost his pep And doesn't know where to find it. He likes to lay Around all day And doesn't seem to mind it.

My daughter. Mrs. Claire Schelske of Ann Arbor, Michigan, when she was a pupil in the third grade at the laboratory school on the KSTC campus, wrote several, of which my favorite is one about kittens:

Have you ever played with kittens With soft and furry mittens? When you pet them to sleep Their mittens turn to paws But when you play too rough with them They turn to long sharp claws.

My daughter. Mrs. Robert Yoder of Peabody , Kansas. when she was teaching a group of educable retarded children at Hillsboror , Kansas, used poetry writing as an interest developer. On one occasion when she suggested the format: 1. the subject; 2. a two­ word line describing the subject; 3. a three­ word line telling what the subject does; 4. a four-word line telling how the subject makes the writer feel , one of the 12-year old girls wrote this about boys.

Boys Rough tough They make noise Bad sad mad glad Boys. The most interesting thing about children and poetry I have seen recently was an article entitled "Child as Poet and Parent as Child " by James F . Mersmann , on the editorial page of the Kansas City Star, February 4, 1973. The following is reprinted from the article, by permission of Dr. Mersmann , Professor of English, Benedictine College, Atchison , Kansas. " For me one of the best kinds of sharing and 'making' with my children is the making of poetry . . Sometimes road trips that might otherwise have been filled with quarrels or brain-rattling car games, have been relieved for .a few moments by our attention to the possible poetry along the road. 'What do these silos look like?' Maybe the first answer is 'huge bullets ' but if you are a gentle parent you probably don ' t encourage that; you suggest that perhaps a more imaginative image can be found. Finally some one finds it:

Silver-topped silo ;

some giant forgot

his thermos bottle .

Other poems we have made along the road: The water tower

stands by the road;

a silver spider.

Bright sunlight on broken cars; the junkyard is full of stars. The plane is a bumble bee; the city opens like a flower. But the road poem I like best of all came one black evening: The dark runs away down the road in the night; dark, why are you afraid of the light? (Answer me that. oh ye metaphysicians?) " In the article Dr. Mersma nn referred to such poems as " irregular haiku ." Here are three more examples: The little dog is dirty. I pet him anyway his eyes are very clean. The procupine's quills stick out all over; maybe he never gets hugged. I thought mud puddles

were ugly; then I caught one

pretending to be the sky.

Concerning the educational uses of poetry, Verne Rockcastle commented as follows in the March 1964 number of Cornell Science Leaflet: "if. along with the reading of poems such as included in this Leaflet, the teacher will encourage close and accurate observation of the living things about which the poems are written, then the poems will give a full measure of their intended value-enjoyment of good verse , and a closer look at the natural

environment. As children are led to look , they are led to wonder; as they wonder , they can be led to think and experiment ; as they experiment, they will learn. From learning from nature , they will grow in understandi ng and appreciation. Natural science today can be pre sented to youngsters in dejuiced, objective form that asks only answers to questions , or it can be presented in a form that combines the spirit of the poet with the analytical curiosity of the scientist and makes learning a joy. So these poems are presented to you-for enjoyment and learning. " AMERICAN INDIAN POETRY American Indian poetry is inseparably blended with song, dance. and other activities. even with prayer. In fact , many of the dances are prayers. Because there was no written language . other than some ideographic memoranda, the poems (songs. prayers ) were passed on by word of mouth. reinforced by melody and dance. Since Indians live close to nature, much of their poetry is of course nature-oriented, both in its origin and development. Two examples follow . one a descrip tion of the house in natural terms , the other a traditional pra ye r to the Great Spirit who is in and of all nature. MY HOUSE My house is made of logs. Once these logs were trees growing. They were trees standing tall. Now they make the walls of my house. Hilltop and sun and wind, grass and stars and trees, I need you for my house. I(epri nled 11'001 SISG I\G SIOl'X COWBOY b\' Ann Cla rk . published b~' l !nited Sta te:-: Indian Serdce. printed b.\' Haskell III ~ I ilille ' now Ha ~J.;e l) Indian Junior College I. La wre nce. K a nsas. 1947 .


o G REA T SPIRIT, Whose voice I hear in the winds, And whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me! I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom. LET ME WALK IN BEAUTY, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. MAKE MY HANDS RESPECT the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice. MAKEMEWISE so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. LET ME LEARN THE LESSONS you have hidden in every leaf and rock . I SEEK STRENGTH, not to be greater than my brother,' but to fight my greatest enemy-myself. MAKE ME ALWAYS READY to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. SO WHEN LIFE FADES, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

A \ radiLion al Sioux pra\'er provid ed b.\' I~ed Cloud I ndian School I 11 01.\' Ho ~a r.\· Mi:,:, ion I. Father Ted Zuern. Di retto r. Pine Hidge . South Dako ta.

The rest of the space in this number of The Naturalist is occupied by samples of my own writing. They were done at various times from the early thirties to 1973. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them .

THOSE LONG STONE FENCES A lovely Sunday drive; Restful it should have been But that my mind would not Forget those tired men Who placed flat stone on stone To make a measured pile So high, so wide , so long, Mile after weary mile; So I arrived at home With aching back and arms­ Just seeing those stone fences Surrounding Flint Hills farms.

DESERT All the way to the far horizon extends the solid shifting sea on which we stand. A soft wind blows the hard sharp sand in rippling wavelets erasing our footprints as though we had been wading in warm and lazy grainy water.

BEAUTY Anyone with open eyes may "look on Beauty bare," also in rose and butterfly, sunshine, ra in, and air. To him whose quest is beauty, beauty is everywhere.



.. ..,,~

PLAINS OF KANSAS " Kansas is a level plain " In the geography book, But not where you stop the car To get out and look . Not at Coronado Heights Or where the Flint Hills are , Not at Tonganoxie Lake Or Fegan or Lone Star, And not the bluffs of Atchison The breaks of the Saline, The chalk cliffs of the dinosaurs Or the Barber County scene, And not along the Skyline Road Or Smoky Hill terrainBut in the book Kansas is A fait and level plain.


THE OCEAN If I had never seen The swell of the ocean Wi th its roll ing surf, I would still know What it looks like For I have stood at sunset Facing an evening breeze Viewing the distant horizon Across a green-gold field Of Kansas wheat. FOSSILS Nature's hieroglyphic record has never been completed; some of the pages have been lost and sentences deleted, many words too dim or blurred for reading with finality; but Nature wrote the record with complete impartiality.

The big abductor muscle of the clam is stronger but the starfish hangs on longer And always wins the tussle; stubbornness of greater length prevails against mere muscle strength.

THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES Charles Darwin In the competition among things alive most of the time the fittest survive and this survival in nature means that the fittest send on their fitness genes to make their offspring ever more fit and so on and on­ well, that's about it.



A furrow in the soil cuts living roots , not so the tracks of rabbits in the snow.

The sky had never been so blue, never the clouds so white, the irises so purple, everything so rightthe roses never were so red, never the grass so green until you stood beside me to share with me the scene.

Before the wind and sun a snow-track disappears; a furrow may remain for years.



The little road is hidden r).ow sealed by frozen snows but here, a thousand miles away, I know just where it goes.

Do you say toe-may-toe to rhyme with potato, or maybe toe-mah-toe as in pizzicato, or perhaps tUh-may-ta to go with pro rata? It will taste the same by whichever name.

Though it's but a narrow road it is not hard to see either through the eyes of dreams or those of revery.

WINGS With sudden darting motion an oriole goes by; a falcon slowly circles into the azure sky; whirling wings of maple seeds transport them through the air, and our imaginations' wings can take us anywhere.



TO A HOUSE SPARROW You little pest, why don't you layoff the eaves trough when you build your nest this season? . . . for if you don't clog the pipe I won't have to gripe about sparrows any more.

(, \.


ENERGY CRISIS How many foot-pounds go to waste as the Kansas winds go by in haste? How many windmills could they turn? How much emergy could we earn, and without fuel to dig and burn? As the winds go by from sea to sea they bring us energy all for free with no pollution and no debris. Will windmills one day dot the plains meeting energy crisis with energy gai ns?

WHY NOr? Said ma skunk to her kiddies "let us spray. " BIRDS OF A FEATHER

"Birds of a feather flock together."

Who said that? A man,

mindful of his companions?

They're a cosmopolitan lot,

these close companions of his-

Wherever he goes they go;

in his home they dwell ;

they travel in his ships and trains;

they sleep in his bedrooms;

they help him eat his daily bread-

The house cricket and silverfish ,

the cockroach and the moth,

the rat and the timorous mouse,

the persistent fly in the house.

Said the pious papa tiger "let us prey." We use 2-4-0 asawild lettuce spray.

COPY CAT An echo does promptly what it sets out to do; an echo is accurate but adds nothing new.



The cedars in the back yard

this snowy day

as though it was Christmas

need no tinfoil icicles

or other baubles

because they are


What further resources can we use?

How many species can we banish?

How many errors can we make?

What food cycles can we break?

What habitats permit to vanish?

What more can we afford to lose?

For what it is worth,

we have only one earth .

The Author The author of the "Nature Poetry" number of The Kansas School Naturalist was a professor of biology at KSTC from 1929 until his retirement in 1968. He was the chairman of the committee that founded the Naturalist in 1954, and was the editor for its first fourteen years. Breukelman Hall, the biology portion of the science-mathematics complex, was named in his honor in 1970. He is working on another issue of the Naturalist , to de~l with the environment; this will probably appear in April 1974. KEY TO QUOTATIONS


I wish to acknowledge . in addition to those mentioned elsewhere, the following: Dr. Robert J. Boles for the photograph of the stone fence, page 11; Dr. Dwight Spencer for the photograph of the coyote , page 6; The National Audubon Society for the photograph of the raccoon , page 9;

My wife Ruth for her careful reading of the manuscript and for assistance in the selecetion of my own verse; my granddaughters, Felisa and Geri Yoder, for their help in the page arrangemen t. All photographs not otherwise credited were taken by the author.

1. RUBAIYAT. Omar Khayyam, 1070-1123,

translated from Persian by Edward

Fitzgerald. 1809-1883.

2. CUCKOO SONG, Anonymous, about 1250

3. ALL FOOLS , George Chapman, 1559­ 1634

4. ODE, Thomas Gray, 1716-1771


Wordsworth , 1770-1850


MOUNTAINS, Reginald Heber, 1783-1826


Lord Byron, 1788-1826


Edward Lear, 1812-1888


BLOOM'D , Walt Whitman, 1819-1892


Trowbridge, 1827-1916


Katharine Lee Bates , 1929-1959

12. EACH IN HIS OWN TONGUE, William Carruth,1859-1924 13. APRIL RAIN, Robert Loveman, 1864­ 1923


Vincent Benet, 1898-1943

15. FERN HILL, Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953