The Best Environmental Poetry Books for Lifting Your Spirits
In the winter, it can sometimes be difficult to feel delighted by Nature: it’s easy to forget the joy of being barefoot in grass when you’re bundled in a jacket and scarf on the subway. When I find myself in fluorescent-lit monotony, I always turn to poetry to regain that sense of exultation.
Fortunately, there are numerous collections of poems that focus entirely on the natural world, and can quickly instill in readers a renewed sense of reverence. Below is a hand-picked bouquet of my favorite environmental poetry—keep it on your bedside table to add a little more color and beauty into your life, or save it for those moments when you could use some sunshine.
New and Selected Poems, Mary Oliver
When it comes to environmental poetry, Mary Oliver is the undisputed queen. Her work is thoughtful, humble, and inspiring, as the poems in this collection are a reminder of the magic in the natural world that surrounds us every day. In New and Selected Poems, Oliver invites us to marvel with her at seemingly mundane aspects of biology like rain, mushrooms, peonies, and wild geese, ultimately demonstrating to the reader that in the right light, anything can be extraordinary.
Turtle Island, Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder is often referred to as the “poet laureate of Deep Ecology,” and with good reason. His poems go beyond simply highlighting the beauty of nature, as they also illuminate pressing ecological issues. Turtle Island is philosophical and deeply moving, yet still highly accessible. Snyder’s background in Zen adds personality and dimension to the book, with much of the resultant poetry emphasizing the interconnectedness of all beings.
The Apple Trees at Olema, Robert Hass
This is a collection of poetry I constantly revisit to feel warmer and lighter. The poems in Robert Hass’ The Apple Trees at Olema are a celebration of varied landscapes and moments in time, but all of them cohere around the theme of delight for that which goes beyond it: the poems have a consistent sensitivity to beauty, and evoke a sense of gratitude for the physical world. Images of fruit are found throughout the collection (“Are you there? It’s summer. Are you smeared with the juice of cherries?”), and with its thoughtful attentiveness, the book has the power to ripen the heart.
The Essential Haiku, Basho, Buson, and Issa
This is a wonderful compilation from three of the masters of haiku. While the poems are short, the content in each one is expansive and absorbing, often dealing with broad topics like the transience of Nature. I find that reading these haikus is a quick way to revitalize my sense of wonder.
The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry’s language is uncomplicated and imbued with a genuine love for the planet. He is a farmer himself, and that connection to the earth is clearly expressed through his writing. Berry’s work also falls into the realm of environmental activism, and his poems leave the reader feeling inspired, at minimum, to go outside.
In addition to offering a breath of fresh air, the above selections also serve as a reminder of what is at stake. They urge us to continue to be amazed by the world around us, and to relentlessly pursue its protection. They are also a guaranteed source of reflection and inspiration at a time when the public seems to need it the most. As environmentalist Bill McKibben once said: “If anyone can save us, the poets can.”