Art adds a powerful dimension to interpreting nature and nature is often a powerful inspiration for many artists. We celebrate this connection every day at the Nature Museum from rotating art shows to crafting activities at our family events.
Poetry is one of the most intimate ways to reflect on our connectedness with Nature. We asked our poet friends at Poems While You Wait to share some of their favorite nature-inspired poetry and add a note on why they chose their selected poems. The poets also included links to their social media accounts, so you can check out their own work. You can also learn more, and comission your own poem, on their website.
You can write your own poems as well! There is always inspiration in nature, whether you’re on a walk or just looking out the window. Take a few minutes with these recommendations and consider trying a poem yourself — Look to nature and see what you find!
“From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Poems While You Wait’s Danielle Levsky (she/her) is a Post-Soviet Jewish writer, clown, actor, and instructional designer. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.
Of her recommendation, she writes: “Li-Young Lee was introduced to me by my high school Creative Writing teacher. His poems about braiding and cities always felt connected to the ground, the Earth these ideas sprouted from and rooted within. ‘From Blossoms’ has been my favorite homage to the sweetness of warm weather, to the sweetness of summer love, to the sweetness of gardens.”
XLIX by Oshikochi No Mitsune
(translated by Kenneth Rexroth in One Hundred Poems from the Japanese)
The white chrysanthemum
Is disguised by the first frost.
If I wanted to pick one
I could find it only by chance.
Poems While You Wait’s Caro Macon Fleischer is a Texas-born, Chicago-based writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter.
Of her recommendation, she writes, “When I was in high school, my mom gave me this book One Hundred Poems from the Japanese translated by Kenneth Rexroth. I always thought they were all so short and beautiful. It’s a very used copy that is now held together by tape and binder clips. It has a lot of my mom’s personal notes in the margins, from when she was in her twenties. Since they are so short I’ve memorized a lot of them and they have stuck with me over the years. I always think about this one especially during springtime. There are also a lot of love poems in the collection that bring in nature that I think of often and adore.”
The Panther by Rainier Maria Rilke
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly—. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
Poem’s While You Wait’s Lisa Farver is a poet and improviser based in Chicago. She has performed her work at Women Made Gallery, Chicago Poetry Brothel, and other venues throughout the city. Follow her on Twitter.
Of her recommendation, she writes, “Rilke’s panther captures the ache of the chasm that still yawns between nature and man.”
On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree
not the fruit
the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted
I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time
with the sun already
and the water
touching its roots
in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing
one by one
over its leaves
Dave Landsberger is a founding member of Poems While You Wait.
Of his recommendation, he writes, “No famous modern poets have dedicated themselves more to rejuvenating, learning from, and protecting the Earth than W.S. Merwin. This is perhaps his most signature poem, and it gains even greater significance 38 years after it was published.”
“The Fury of Sunrises” by Anne Sexton
as black as your eyelid
poketricks of stars,
the yellow mouth,
the smell of a stranger,
dawn coming up,
the smell of a lover,
as authentic as soap,
wave after wave
and the birds in their chains
going mad with throat noises,
the birds in their tracks
yelling into their cheeks like clowns,
the stars gone,
the trees appearing in their green hoods,
the house appearing across the way,
the road and its sad macadam,
the rock walls losing their cotton,
letting the dog out and seeing
fog lift by her legs,
a gauze dance,
yellow, blue at the tops of trees,
more God, more God everywhere,
more world everywhere,
sheets bent back for people,
the strange heads of love
like the yolk of eggs,
the flies gathering at the windowpane,
the dog inside whining for food
and the day commencing,
not to die, not to die,
as in the last day breaking,
a final day digesting itself,
the endless colors,
the same old trees stepping toward me,
the rock unpacking its crevices,
breakfast like a dream
and the whole day to live through,
steadfast, deep, interior.
After the death,
after the black of black,
not to die, not to die—
that God begot.
Poem’s While You Wait’s Eric Plattner was born in Los Angeles in October. Of his recommendation, he writes: “Because nature, like Sexton’s poetry, should shock you awake.”
The Field of Poppies by Peter Balakian
for my mother
Cypress spiral to the sky.
Painters came here because
the dirt was dry as their bones,
because even the monastery on the hill
flaked each day.
You want a picture of yourself
in this poppy field;
wind blowing the long grass
around your legs,
fields of yellow flower across
the road moving away from you.
The high mountain is where
the town’s saint disappeared
with his wound.
When he returned
peach trees sprouted from rock,
and the gray clouds left the mountain.
Cypress spiral to the sky.
Your father found this field
and the mountain uncovered,
the monastery a pure glint of sun.
You want this picture
to show your body disappearing
in the red waves of flower,
a field of pin-pricks
rising and falling in the breeze,
each step spreading the red
over your joints.
You want the red to cover
you want the line where
sky and land meet
to turn the color of the heart.
This is how your father left;
foot, knee, stomach, face
disappearing in the stain of this field,
in the light wind that sang
in the red flowers.
Poems While You Wait’s Hajrije Kolimja is an Albanian American writer in Chicago who enjoys reading and writing about women from diasporic communities.
Of her recommendation, she writes, “This poem captures how people and history are forever linked to nature, how we struggle with the desire to make new memories in tragic places.”
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