Nature Poetry

As a poem that spotlights the natural world’s vast grandeur, “Wild Geese” stands in a long tradition of poetry devoted to nature. This tradition goes back to the pastoral poetry of Greek and Roman antiquity. Written by poets from urban centers, pastoral poems projected idealized images of the peaceful simplicity of shepherds’ lives in rural nature. Although pastoral poetry fell out of favor in the Middle Ages, it made a resurgence in the Renaissance and remained popular among neoclassical poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, the British Romantic poets departed from typical depictions of pastoral nature. Instead of depending on highly idealized conventions for portraying rural life, the Romantics sought to develop more personalized depictions of the natural world. Each in their different way, Romantic poets like William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Percy Shelley explored their own unique emotional and philosophical responses to nature’s beauty and sublimity. Across the Atlantic, the American Transcendentalists took a similarly serious approach to representing the relationship between humans and nature. Poets like Walt Whitman and philosophers like Ralph Waldo Emerson reframed the natural world as a wildly beautiful and divinely inspired frontier.

The Environmental Movement

The speaker of “Wild Geese” advocates for a more expansive awareness of the natural world, which puts the poem in conversation with the environmental movement. This movement began in the nineteenth century, alongside growing concern about civilization’s encroachment on and destruction of wilderness spaces. In the United States, a social and political movement emerged in favor of conservation efforts that would protect natural spaces. These conservation efforts helped establish the first national parks at the end of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the environmental movement gained momentum on a more global level. The new momentum was generated by the rising tide of social and political activism that surged in the 1960s. The work of the biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson proved especially significant in sparking widespread concern about environmental issues. Her book Silent Spring, which documented the deleterious effects of haphazard pesticide use, is a landmark text for the environmental movement. Since the 1960s, concern with environmental issues has grown rapidly, in tandem with the spreading awareness of deforestation, ocean acidification, climate change, and other planetary crises. Understood in this context, “Wild Geese” participates in a wider movement that encourages the development of a stronger environmental consciousness.