Essay, 5 pages (1300 words)

Free essay about three poems about nature: a discussion

“ The Tyger” – William Blake

“ Haiku” – Matsuo Basho
r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r – e. e. cumings
Over the centuries human civilization has tended to have an exploitative relationship with nature: we plunder the earth for old, precious stone and minerals; we consume grain and fruit, nuts and berries; we kill wildlife – sometimes for food but also for pleasure. Humankind has also meddled in nature – genetically-modified crops are simply the latest example, since before them skilled horticulturalists have for centuries produced hybrid plants for practical or aesthetic purposes. The popularity of zoos and wildlife parks demonstrates our fascination with the other species that inhabit our world. Poets have always reflected the general human interest in nature and in animals. However, poets have always had a more sensitive and nuanced approach to nature, and often a sense of awe and respect in the face of the natural world. The three poems discussed in this essay display a respect and a fascination with the natural world, and, generally, accept nature for what it is: the poems themselves through words attempt to capture some of the more remarkable aspects of nature.
Basho’s “ Haiku” is often known by the title “ Old Pond”. The speaker of the poem is sitting near an old pond and is suddenly made aware of the noise made by a fish caused by a frog jumping into the pond. The “ old pond” may suggest that the water is calm, and also that the poet does not normally pay much attention to it. The poem is written in the present tense which adds to its immediacy, and the positioning of the onomatopoeic word “ Plop!” is foregrounded by being on its own in the final line of the haiku: the reader’s eyes have to move down from the second line to encounter “ Plop!” and this moment of the eye replicates, to a certain extent, the frog’s leap into the pond. What is most interesting about Basho’s “ haiku” is the anonymity of the speaker and the intense concentration on aspects of nature – the pond, the sudden movement of the frog. Of course, this concentration is intensified by Basho’s use of the haiku form, but it is almost as if the speaker ceases to exist: we know nothing about him and his persona, and his personal mood and his personality are not allowed to intrude between the reader and the experience of the frog. As a whole the poem has a tranquil and relaxed atmosphere: the fact that the “ Plop!” of the frog is heard suggests a peaceful, quiet setting. Overall Basho’s “ Haiku” celebrates the calm and tranquil qualities of nature, and its wonderful capacity to surprise with the sudden leap of the frog. It is also a poem which respects nature for what it is: it does not attempt to project the writer’s feelings or philosophy onto the natural world – it accepts nature for what it is and celebrates the quiet, unexpected pleasures to be gained from nature.
The poem consists of a series of questions which serve to highlight Blake’s questioning of the tiger’s existence – questions which remain unanswered at the end of the poem. He also uses repetition and alliteration to good effect, and the pounding, largely trochaic rhythm imitates very effectively the blows of the hammer on the anvil which Blake imagines the tiger’s creator used to make the creature. This metaphor of God as a blacksmith fashioning the tiger at his anvil with a blacksmith’s hammer suggests the care and effort that has gone into the tiger’s creation. And when he finished the task Blake asks, “ Did he smile his work to see?” The image of a blacksmith’s forge is a traditional image of creativity because it is where metals are worked and fashioned and moulded into artefacts. The pounding rhythm serves to suggest the immense effort that the tiger’s creator has used to create this monstrous creature. This immense effort suggests quite clearly a very deliberate act of creation on the part of God – which puzzles Blake even more.
“ The Tyger” appeared in 1794 and the context of the production of Blake’s poem sheds important light on its potential meaning. The French Revolution had begun in 1789, and we know that Blake was broadly sympathetic to the aims and ideals of the revolution. By 1794 a period known as the Terror had begun, during which anyone with sympathies or even suspected sympathies to the old pre-revolutionary regime were executed in droves. What has this got to do with tigers? In Britain writers antipathetic to the French Revolution had taken to calling the blood-thirsty French revolutionaries ‘ tigers’ – it was intended as a derogatory term. But Blake was sympathetic to the aims of the French Revolution: this goes some way to explain his ambivalent feelings in the poem – admiration and awe at the revolutionary forces in contemporary France, coupled with horror and fear at episodes like the Terror.
“ r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-g-r” by e. e. cummings is a poem about a grasshopper which playfully experiments with spelling, the arrangement of letters, the positioning of lines on the page to suggest a grasshopper in motion and finally coming to rest. The poem might also be said to dramatize the human act of looking at the grasshopper and not realizing what it is until it leaps into the air and takes for before the watcher’s eyes. The erratic movements of the grasshopper are suggested by the various permutations of the letters of “ grasshopper” and other typographical features such as typographic jumbling, dispersion, rearrangement, and, finally, stability enact the transformation of the motionless grasshopper into a leaping blur of energy, which suddenly comes to rest. For most of the poem the eleven letters of “ grasshopper” leap and jump around haphazardly to imitate the movements of the grasshopper. This means that as the reader reads the poe our minds replicate the slow perceptual process of becoming aware of the quickly-moving elusive grasshopper and we arrive at the final word – “ grasshopper” – just as we may arrive at a rational statement of the entire poem: “ Grasshopper, who, as we look, now upgathering into himself, leaps, arriving to become, rearrangingly, a grasshopper”. It is important to stress that cummings’ poem is not a simple shape poem: rather it appeals to our minds and the techniques he uses are a mental, not primarily a pictorial puzzle. Part of the pleasure of the cummings poem, it could be argued, is not simply his ingenious and innovative rearrangements of words, lines, punctuation and spelling, but the pleasure the reader achieves in working out the puzzle of the poem. It is an amazing and ambitious poem – to try to distil the essence of a grasshopper’s movements using only words and punctuation.
In conclusion, it can be seen that these poems approach nature in different ways and with different effects. Basho’s celebrates a simple event in nature and seems to value it for its own sake – the poet is almost totally absent in his poem except as a passive observer. By contrast, Blake uses “ The Tyger” as a symbol to explore religious, philosophical and political ideas, while at the same time affording great reverence, combined with great fear, towards the tiger. e. e. cummings uses his grasshopper poem to experiment with letters, punctuation and the arrangement of words on the page to create an aesthetic experience which attempts to imitate the grasshopper in flight and then finally coming to rest. Basho seems the most interested in nature; Blake is more concerned with divine morality and the French Revolution, and the nature of a God who is capable of producing a world containing both good and evil; cummings seems to use the grasshopper as an excuse to demonstrate his radical experimentations with form, but, despite this, perhaps comes closest to capturing, through his radical experimentations with form and structure, the real essence of a grasshopper.

Works Cited

Basho, Matsuo. “ Haiku”. Web.
Blake, William. “ The Tyger”. Web.
cummings, e. e. “ r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r”. Web.

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