Nature has been a recurring theme in poetry through the ages. Its various landscapes, its changing seasons, its creative as well as destructive power, its beautiful phenomenons; have fascinated poets of every generation stimulating them to create verses on it. Romanticism was an influential artistic and literary movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and peaked in the first half of the 19th century. Among other things, glorification of nature was an integral part of Romanticism. Hence the theme of nature has been explored in some of the most famous Romantic poems including To Autumn of John Keats; Daffodils of William Wordsworth; and The Tyger of William Blake. The best known 20th century poems on nature were written by American writer Robert Frost. These include Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Nothing Gold Can Stay. The only 21st century poem on our list is Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese. Here are the 10 most famous poems on nature.
#10 The Eagle
Poet: Alfred Lord Tennyson
Alfred Lord Tennyson was the leading poet of the Victorian age who remains one of the most renowned poets in the English language. This poem, which focuses on the majesty of nature, is one of his shortest pieces of literature. It consists of only two stanzas of three lines each. Literary scholars often cite the shortness of the poem to emphasize the deeper meaning in nature itself, that the readers have to find themselves. In the poem, Tennyson uses the technique of alliteration, which is repetition of similar sounds in the beginning of words, like in the words ‘clasps,’ ‘crag’ and ‘crooked’ in the first line. The hard ‘c’ sound is used to make the reader stop and consider the meaning of the line. In addition to alliteration, Tennyson uses personification (crooked ‘hands’) and simile (‘like a thunderbolt’) to enhance the reader’s experience of imagining an eagle.
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
#9 Wild Geese
Poet: Mary Oliver
Mary Jane Oliver is one of the most famous female poets of all time and she won many awards during her life including the Pulitzer Prize. Her poetry is inspired by nature and it describes the sense of wonder it instills in her. In this poem, the speaker talks directly to the reader expressing what one must do in order to lead a good life. She tells the reader that it is not required to be morally good or lead a life of penance but instead one must turn to nature and follow one’s heart. Throughout the poem, Oliver uses the word “you” to address the reader bringing a sense of urgency to the work. Also, vivid and beautiful imagery has been used to lure the reader towards nature. Comprising of only one stanza and eighteen lines, Wild Geese is the most famous poem of Mary Oliver.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
#8 Tintern Abbey
Poet: William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was Britain’s poet laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850 and he remains one of the best known poets in the English language. “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey“ which is usually referred to as simply “Tintern Abbey” is one of the best-known poems of Wordsworth. It contains elements of the ode, the dramatic monologue and the conversation poem. Tintern Abbey is situated in the village of Tintern in Monmouthshire, on the Welsh bank of the River Wye. The poem is noted for Wordsworth’s descriptions of the banks of the River Wye which tell about his philosophies on nature. To this day, Tintern Abbey remains a source of critical debate due to its complex philosophical themes.
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
#7 Lake Isle of Innisfree
Poet: W. B. Yeats
Isle of Innisfree is an uninhabited island within Lough Gill, in County Sligo, Ireland, where Yeats spent his summers as a child. In this short poem of three stanzas of four lines, the speaker, who is residing in an urban city, yearns to return to the peace and serenity of Innisfree. The poem is notable as being a famous work of the Irish Literary Revival movement which aimed to create distinct art and literature that was Irish in origin rather than one that adhered to the standards set by the English. Lake Isle of Innisfree was critically acclaimed when it was published. It remains one of the best known poems of Yeats with multiple references to it being made in popular culture over the years.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
#6 Ode to a Nightingale
Poet: John Keats
John Keats rose to fame after his death and by the end of the 19th century he became one of the most beloved English Romantic poets. He is most renowned for his 1819 odes and this is one of the poems in the series. A nightingale built its nest near Keats’ home in the spring of 1819 and inspired by its song Keats wrote this famous ode in a single day. In the poem Keats describes a nightingale that experiences a type of death but does not actually die. The bird is able to live through its song, a fate which is impossible for a human to achieve. The poem ends with an acceptance that pleasure cannot last and that death is an inevitable part of life. Apart from the theme of nature, Ode to a Nightingale also explores the themes of transience and mortality.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
#5 Nothing Gold Can Stay
Poet: Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost is considered by many as the greatest American poet of the 20th century. Gold in this poem refers to the color of vegetation in its first stage. The speaker says that the rich hue of gold, after a brief while, gives way to the green of life. In the second couplet, this is emphasized again, this time with the analogy of a leaf existing as a flower briefly before taking its true form. The Fall of Man is a term used to refer to the story of Adam and Eve committing the sin of disobedience by consuming the fruit from the tree of knowledge leading to their expulsion from paradise. Frost uses metaphors, like that of the Fall and of dawn transforming to day, to comment on the necessity of the transformation of life from its rich, beautiful and even paradise like state, to that which is wholesome and complete. Nothing Gold Can Stay is one of Frost’s most brilliant short verses and is renowned for its rich symbolism.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
#4 To Autumn
Poet: John Keats
Keats wrote To Autumn after a walk near Winchester one autumnal evening. The poem marks the end of his poetic career as his efforts were not giving enough financial returns. In its three eleven line stanzas, To Autumn describes three aspects of the season: its fruitfulness, its labour and its ultimate decline. Widely analysed, the poem has been seen as signifying the renewal of life; as an allegory of artistic creation; and as a political poem commenting on England’s contemporary situation. To Autumn is Keats’ most famous poem and it has been praised by scholars and critics as one of the most perfect short poems in the English language. Unfortunately Keats contracted tuberculosis the same autumn which caused his death in 1921 at the age of 25.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
#3 Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Poet: Robert Frost
Written in a very short time, Robert Frost called this poem,“my best bid for remembrance”. In it, the narrator stops to behold a lovely scene of snow falling in the woods and is tempted to stay longer. However, he ultimately decides to move on as he still has a considerable distance to travel before he can rest. The poem has been interpreted in many ways revolving around the pull the narrator faces between the “lovely” woods and the “promises” he has to keep. It has been thought to imply several things including being symbolic of the choice between adventure and responsibility. Stopping by the Woods is one of the most popular poems, especially its last four lines, which are among the most often quoted lines in poetry.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
#2 The Tyger
Poet: William Blake
The Tyger is a poem in Blake’s Songs of Experience. It serves as a counterpart to his poem in Songs of Innocence, The Lamb. In The Tyger, the speaker focuses on the subject of creation asking who could have made such a terrifying beast as the tiger. The speaker talks about the fearful features of the tiger and wonders “did he who made the Lamb make thee?“ before he ends the poem with the question with which he began, “What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”. The Tyger, with its strikingly powerful words, serves as a counter to the innocence and tenderness of The Lamb. It is one of the most analysed poems and Cambridge calls it the “the most anthologized poem in English”. The Tyger is not only the most famous work of William Blake but also one of the best known poems of all time.
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Poet: William Wordsworth
Along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth is credited with launching the Romantic Age in English literature and this is the most famous poem of the movement. It is titled “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud“ but it is commonly known as “Daffodils”. Wordsworth was inspired to write it on encountering a long belt of Daffodils while taking a walk with his sister Dorothy in April 1802. The poem simply tells about the poet discovering a field of the beautiful flowers while wandering. As it is among the most popular poems in the English language, it has frequently been the subject of parody and satire. Daffodils is taught in many institutions across the world as a classic of English Romanticism and it is the most famous poem on nature.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.