Nature poetry

Study Day, Saturday 9 February 2019, 2.00-5.30 p.m.

Price: £50.00 / £45.00 students. Tea and coffee provided.
Venue: Stapleford Granary, Bury Road, Stapleford, Cambridge CB22 5BP.
CAMcard holders can book at the student price.

 Trees in mist by Mika Luoma, Unsplash

Trees in mist by Mika Luoma, Unsplash

Nature Poetry

Nature has been an abiding concern for poets throughout history. After 1750, the natural world was subject to dramatic changes. Agricultural landscapes were transformed by the process of enclosure. Technological innovations spurred the rise of cities and caused massive shifts in the nature of work. How did poetry engage with these changes taking place in the natural world? And how does that poetry speak to us now?

Blake image.jpg

Introduction: Nature Under Pressure

Oliver Goldstein, Trinity Hall, Cambridge

One of William Blake's most famous poems from Songs of Experience begins with the line: ‘O Rose thou art sick.’ This lecture will consider the ways poets such as Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson and Christina Rossetti engaged with a ‘sick’ natural world under the conditions of industrial modernity. How did their nature poetry contemplate questions of beauty and waste? And how might their verse help us to think about climate change and environmental crisis today?

 John Clare, 1793-1864

John Clare, 1793-1864

John Clare: Poet of Nature

Paul Chirico, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge 

John Clare (1793-1864) grew up in a labouring family in the village of Helpston on the edge of the Fens. Both his early working life and his social and cultural outlook were shaped by the enormous changes brought about by the local Enclosure Act in 1809.

His intimate love for his natural world underpinned an extraordinary and enduring body of poetry. This lecture will explore – and enjoy – that poetry in all its breadth, from minute observations of birds and plants, to narrative accounts of self-discovery in woodland or open landscape, to impassioned, finely-crafted declarations of resistance to environmental degradation.

We finish the day with a round-table seminar.


William Blake
The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick. 
The invisible worm, 
That flies in the night 
In the howling storm: 

Has found out thy bed 
Of crimson joy: 
And his dark secret love 
Does thy life destroy.

John Clare

'Tis evening; the black snail has got on his track,
And gone to its nest is the wren,
And the packman snail, too, with his home on his back,
Clings to the bowed bents like a wen.

The shepherd has made a rude mark with his foot
Where his shadow reached when he first came,
And it just touched the tree where his secret love cut
Two letters that stand for love's name.

The evening comes in with the wishes of love,
And the shepherd he looks on the flowers,
And thinks who would praise the soft song of the dove,
And meet joy in these dew-falling hours.

For Nature is love, and finds haunts for true love,
Where nothing can hear or intrude;
It hides from the eagle and joins with the dove,
In beautiful green solitude.

John Clare

The thistledown's flying, though the winds are all still, 
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill, 
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot; 
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot. 

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread, 
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead. 
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed, 
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed. 

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun, 
And the rivers we're eying burn to gold as they run; 
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air; 
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there. 



John Clare Society
BBC Radio 4, In Our Time on John Clare
Wordsworth, Poetry Foundation.

Contact us:

Banner image: Tina Rataj-Berard, Unsplash.


 Trees by Jachan Devol, Unsplash

Trees by Jachan Devol, Unsplash