An Ecocritical Approach to Emily Dickinson’s and Robert frost’s poetry
America commonly known as the world of mind and spirit in which the breakdown of middle age took place by creating the modern idea of free individual as a flavorful thought. Thoreau wrote many years ago, “I went to the woods because I wish to live deliberately, to forefront only essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when, I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Walden 915)
The colonial continent had nothing to boast of in novel, drama as well as in poetry till (1760). After the arrival of Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whit Man, Emerson, Dickenson, Frost and others reached the forefront. The world was changing rapidly because science and technology had spread almost in all fields by leaving its good as well as wicked inscription and the people were ready to shun the dullness of scientific goods by making nature as their peer as Bartman writes in Trveles “nature is an important part of the definition of America” (Bercovitch 138).
Nuclear war weapons had already showed their supremacy in 1945 in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the turn of 20th century the political fears of American traditionalist became a reality around the time of the arrival of Dickinson, Plath, Frost, and others on the scene. These poets tried their best to maintain the integrity of ‘self’ but there was digression caused by the tension that divided them among persons and persona. This digression disintegration of ‘I’ got deepened in Sylvia Plath who became all skeptic and was neurosis and derangement.
This is a dark house, very big. I made it myself, cell by cell from a quiet corner chewing at the grey paper oozing the glue drops whistling wiggling my ears. Thinking of something else. (Dark house 1-7)
This dilemma of “living in a dark house” and “thinking about something else” one of the joyful acceptances of simple faith; and the other to despair that comes from denial which paved the way for the nature writing. This filled the gap of divided self as people realized this world is composed of two things i.e., “nature and soul” (Nature 497). The change began in 17th century and rapidly flourished during the 18th century when the romantic tradition flourished as a movement. This movement though of a slow birth succeeded in liberating man from the
Exhausting customs of the society mostly of industry. Wordsworth remained the main figure of the romantic tradition, and this influence made ways easier to discuss the things by spreading the general awareness among common mass.
The American’s were themselves aware that even if science has or is going to provide facilities for the development of nature but somehow they too had a belief that science and nature cannot go hand in hand because man has used science for ill purposes also, “science as taught in the past has often failed to foster a respect for nature” (qtd. in Love, 40). So there was a great distrust about some scientific discoveries which made life of a man very much mundane. Even if the age was the age of American dream but the doubt was rooted in man’s mind which kept him in dilemma. As Frost laments:
The truth is established and borne out, Though circumstanced with dark and doubt, Though by a world of doubt surrounded (Beech 10-12).
The domination of science has bounded everything which left man in a skeptical thought and increased his unfulfilled demands which he has to satisfy with the source available here on this green planet. “The second industrial is a prime example of the kind of over simplification … since it is a term that assumes exactly what it should be examining: the distance travelled between then and now the birth of the factory system and the current global economy” (Against Technology 4).
Both Emily Dickenson and Frost showed a great concern towards ecology or environment as their predecessors like Emerson, David Thoreau, Whitman and others had. The biotic environment was the main apprehension of all the poets and they tried to glorify the surroundings in one way or the other in their poetry. The poets have discussed the dignified characteristics of flora and fauna by focusing on the social and geographical aspects of New England.
The developmental processes was going on in Dickenson and Frost’s period also and science was making tremendous progress in many spheres as in Dickenson’s period i.e., between 1830 and 1840’s electromagnetic Induction and electromotive force were discovered and further the first steam railway was established in 1831. The telegraph machine, the astronomers discovered Neptune 1846. And some other discoveries were made but Dickenson and Frost have written a lot about science and natural habitat which marks them among the great poets who showed concern towards the ecology. Dickenson and Frost being naturalists have written numerous natural and other poems in which they showed the concern about the natural phenomenon, e.g., both talk about the beauty of sunset, the sunrise, beauty of moon, beauty of flowers, trees, seasons, and the other natural species. Both of them do talk about the science also with little difference in their thoughts.
Dickenson talks about the day to day feeling which she observes amid a deep forest. For her nature is what we see and nature works as a feast for eyes; nature works as a gentlest mother for her:
Nature -- the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child --
The feeblest -- or the way wardest --
Her Admonition mild – (Nature 1-4).
Emily Dickenson shows her concern towards the creatures of nature by presenting a beautiful life about them. She like Emerson shows a positive relationship with fellow creatures. In a poem A Narrow Fellow in The Grass she represents the picture of a snake and says:
Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality; (17-20).
She shows her cordiality towards the other creatures like snake because she knew that snakes are very useful in order to maintain the ecological balance and that’s why God has created them. The researchers have find that the ophidiophobia is in the genes of man, and a man who is fearful of a snake should not kill him but should let him go. The fact about the snakes is that:
Out of the 2500 species of snake only 20% of the snakes are venomous. They have their own part to play in the ecosystem. Being top level of predators a single snake can consume over a hundred rodents a year. Moreover all snakes form a part of the diet of other predators such as hawks and foxes and there by serving to link the higher and lower feeding levels. Man with his high handedness tries to assert his superiority over his fellow creatures by harming them. The ill effects are sure to boomerang on him (quoted in Sumathy 36).
Further Dickenson is aware of the change in the landscape by remembering the location of rails and fences which break the landscape. She was aware about the over crowdedness of the natural places. She knew that all this will create imbalance in the natural places of those who live there among the lush green lands will be bounded in different ways. This devastation according to her will come in the form of industries which will give space to many hazardous things like railroads and the fences with other locomotives. In a poem Railway Train she shares her experience;
I like to see it lap the miles –
and lick the valley up –
and stop the feed itself at tanks – (Poem no 585, 1-3).