The Song of the Earth – Jonathan Bate


I liked the questions Bate poses in his work, The Song of the Earth: he explains

“In the first three chapters I establish some contexts. Why do we value literary works with rural settings? How can we reconcile ‘culture’ and ‘nature’, two forces which are traditionally opposed to each other? What indeed do we mean by ‘nature’? How and why do we dream of living in unity with ‘her’? Then in the book’s middle chapters I ask with respect to a range of poems some of the questions which ecologists ask of biological organisms. How are they influenced by climate? In what kind of landscape do they flourish? What are their modes of creating shelter, their relations with other species?” (p.vii) He continues: “Human beings are not, however, like other species: there are spiritual, linguistic, historical, regional and national aspects to our senses of identity and belonging.” (p.viii)

These same questions are phrased slightly differently, but still interestingly, in the blurb for this book that appears on the inside cover: “In Jonathan Bate’s brilliantly original new book he offers us the first ecological reading of English literature. What are the distinctions between ‘nature’, ‘culture’, and ‘environment’, and to what extent have their perception and significance changed since their appearance in the literature of the eighteenth century? Challenging and absorbing, lively and accessible, The Song of the Earth ranges from greenhouses in the novels of Jane Austen to fruit bats in the poetry of Les Murray, by way of Thomas Hardy’s woodlands, the rise of picturesque tourism, John Clare’s birds’ nests, Wordsworth’s rivers, Byron’s bear and an early nineteenth-century novel about an orang-utan who stands for parliament.The Song of the Earth is at once an essential history of environmental consciousness and an impassioned argument for the necessity of literature in a time of ecological crisis.”

Ref: Jonathan Bate (2000) The Song of the Earth. Macmillan Publishers: London


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