Poetry (III): Art and Nature

                   How is poetry related to nature or the other forms of art?   
                   How does the former represent/transform the latter?
                   Do you consider science (e.g. computer technologies) or popular culture
                         (e.g. movies, popular songs) as art? 
* It takes time to transmit the pictures on this page to your computer.  Please read the verbal text first.
 W. H. Auden

Irises by van Gogh, May 1890

 Walt Whiman
Thomas Hardy William Wordsworth


*1997On-line Journal for Ray's class
*1997On-line Journal for Kate's class

William Carlos Williams


from William Carlos Williams: 
the Poetry/Art Connection
"The Dance" (text and painting)
more paintings by Bruegel


Kermess, Bruegel
Questions for*Understanding & Analysis;  *Application & Wild Association
  1. This is a great poem to read aloud; in fact, to fully understand this poem, you must both hear and feel its sounds and rhythm. Scan this poem and describe the effects of its rhythm. What patterns of sound can you find, i.e. rhyme, alliteration, assonance, etc.? How do the rhythm and sounds support the poem's meaning?
  2. This poem is a good example of "free verse."¨ What is free verse? Notice how many of the lines in this poem end with very weak words which do not normally receive much stress. How does this influence the way you read the lines of poetry? Do you stop? Do you read faster or slower?
  3. Why do you think the last line of the poem repeats the first line?
  4. Describe the tone and mood of the painting by Bruegel that this poem is based on. How would you characterize the relationship of the poem to the painting? How are they similar and how are they different?
  5. What does this poem suggest about the meanings of art?
¡@Application & Wild Association
  1. Both "The Dance" and "My Papa's Waltz" are about dancing.  How do they each use sound and rhythm to convey the different kinds of dance?
  2. If you wanted to write a poem or a story about this painting, what would you do with your language?  Which part of the painting would you focus on?  What would you want the poem/story to be like?
Relevant links: back to the top ¡@

W. H. Auden



from W. H. Auden (1907-73) site, a site with general introduction to Auden, bibliography and relevant links.
 "Musee des Beaux Arts" (text and painting)

Landscape with the Fall of  Icarus
click the picture or here to get a larger version, with an introduction to Bruegel the Elder and a brief analysis of the painting.

paintings with Biblical allusions:

The Census  at Bethlehem, based on Luke 2:1-5
(sometimes called The Numbering at Bethlehem)

The Massacre of the Innocents

"[Bruegel] depicted a Flemish village on a cold December evening; the red ball of the setting sun has begun to slip behind the trees at the left.  Peasants trudge through the ice and snow from all directions, converging on the inn at lower left, where a crowd has already gathered to pay its taxes.  Amid the bustle, no one notices the presence of Joseph leading the Virgin on a mule." (144) "[Here] another peasant village has been invaded by an army of soldiers who carry out Herod's command with cold-blooded efficiency.  The villagers protest and plead in vain as their children are slaughtered before their eyes.  This grim business is supervised by a detachment of armoured knights in the centre, led by a sinister grey bearded man dressed in black, perhaps Herod himself, .." (Gibson,144)
 Questions for *Understanding & Analysis;  *Application & Wild Association
Questions for Understanding and Analysis
  1. Unlike Williams's poem, which is based on ONE poem by Pieter Breughel, this poem by Auden seems to allude to three paintings. Of the three paintings reproduced above, which painting do lines 5-8 refer to? Which painting do lines 9-13 refer to? Which painting do the remaining lines refer to? How do the first four lines relate to all three of these paintings?
  2. Briefly, what is the mythological story about Icarus? What part of that story is expressed in Breughel's painting about Icarus?
  3. Both the first and the second stanzas are about the position of human suffering in life, or the concurrence of grand human suffering and the daily (and sometimes trivial) activities.  (The "its" and "it" in line 3 refers to human suffering and aspiration.)

  4. a. What are the examples of human suffering in the first stanza?  How are they set in contrast to the daily activities of human beings or even animals?   For the speaker, these two kinds of events concur and the "Old Masters" know it.  What is the speaker's attitude toward this concurrence, and toward the Old Master?  (Pay special attention to the depiction of the children, the dogs, and the horse.)
    b. The human suffering in the second stanza is Icarus's failed aspiration.   But in this stanza, as well as in Brueghel's painting, the focus is not so much on Icarus' aspiration/suffering (his "forsaken cry" and disappearing "white legs") as on the plowman's, the sun's and the ship's indifference to it.  Why?  And what do the speaker of the poem and the painter think about this indifference?
  5. When you first read this poem, you probably did not notice the rhymes. Go back over the poem now and identify the rhyming words. How do these almost hidden rhymes relate to the meaning of the poem? Do they suggest something about the possibility for order in a world that appears disorderly?
  6. Do you see other patterns of order in the poem?
  7. What do the poem and paintings suggest about art and nature?
  8. More about the techniques .. .
¡@Relevant links: back to the top
¡@Application & Wild Association
poetry, painting and song
  • These are questions you can start to think about.
  • Do you consider Don McLean's song "Vincent" a poem or an interpretation of van Gogh's life and painting?

  • from VINCENT VAN GOGH site; get more paintings by Vincent van Gogh here. 

    Thomas Hardy 
    from Thomas Hardy website, more pictures
    "The Darkling Thrush"
    Questions for*Understanding & Analysis;  *Application & Wild Association
    the text with a picture of the thrush and background for line 5-6
    Questions forUnderstanding & Analysis:
    1. This poem describes the turn of the century almost one hundred years ago. How does the speaker feel about the approaching Twentieth Century? How would you describe nature as it is presented in the first and second stanzas? In what way is the condition of nature a mirror of the speaker's own frame of mind?
    2. The third stanza introduces the presence of a thrush. What is a thrush?  How is the image of the thrush in this poem different from the photograph that comes together with the E-Text?  In what ways are the poet and the thrush both singers? What other similarities do they have? How does the song of the thrush differ from the speaker's "song"¨ in the first two stanzas?
    3. Just as the first two stanzas compare the poet with the winter landscape, the last two stanzas suggest a number of similarities and differences between the speaker and the thrush.
    4. Explain possible meanings of the final stanza.
    5. What does this poem suggest about our human position in nature? What does it suggest about art?
    Application & Wild Association
    1. How do you feel about the end of this century and the beginning of the next?
    2. Like the poem by Li-Young Lee "I ask my Mother to Sing," this poem is about singing. How would you describe the song of the thrush in this poem?
    3. Like Whitman in "I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing (1867), the speaker here compares himself to a being in nature.  How are the two poems' tone and messages different?
    Relevant links: back to the top

    Walt Whiman
    •  "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"

    from Direction to Whitman's Birthplace, LIG
    Questions for*Understanding & Analysis;  *Application & Wild Association

    Questions for Understanding & Analysis:

    1. This poem is an appropriate choice for students because the poem presents a speaker who, like students, listens to a lecturer. From the first four lines, describe the astronomer's lecture.
    2. How does the speaker of the poem respond to the lecture? Notice the grammatically ambiguous wording of ll. 3-4. How does the grammar in those places reflect the position and feelings of the speaker?
    3. Why does the speaker go outside? How does what he encounters outside contrast with the astronomer's lecture? Why does the speaker say "mystical moist night-air"?  Why does he look in "perfect silence"?
    4. What does this poem suggest about the powers of nature? Is the astronomer's lecture a type of  "art"? If so, what does this poem suggest about the relationship between art and nature?
    5. More about the techniques .. .
    back to the top ¡@

    William Wordsworth

    "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"
    ¡@ Questions for*Understanding & Analysis;  *Application & Wild Association

    Questions for Understanding & Analysis:

    1. When the speaker, in line one, uses metaphoric language and says that he is "lonely as a cloud," what does he mean? Are clouds lonely?
    2. What are daffodils? Why do you think the poet chooses to personify them in the poem? How do the daffodils feel? Are they also lonely? Notice that in each stanza the daffodils are always joined with some other aspect of nature or the world. (In stanza one, for example, the daffodils are together with the breeze.) What are the daffodils in harmony with in the other stanzas? How many words in the poem have the same meaning as "happy"?
    3. What does the speaker come to realize in the final stanza? What does he mean by "inward eye"? Why does he often feel happy now?
    4. What does this poem suggest about the powers of nature? How does nature in this poem compare and contrast with the image of nature in Whitman's ¡§When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer¡¨?
    ¡@Relevant Links:  back to the top