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Introduction
 
1. Rationale and Purpose
2. The Present Context of Ecologically-Oriented Studies in Literature
        The Tendency towards Avoiding Ecological Issues in the Humanities
        Some Basic Eco-Philosophical Assumptions
        Ego-consciousness Should Be Replaced by Eco-consciousness
        The New Aims and Pursuits of Ecocriticism
        Some New Core Criteria for Literary Analysis
        A New Agenda
 
1. Rationale and Purpose
 
This guide is meant to provide some initial bibliographical assistance to those who want to study the historical evolution of ecological thinking in Canada on the basis of poetry. A major theoretical assumption underlying this project is that literature gives privileged access to a nation's cultural memory. Even a cursory survey of Canadian literary history supplies ample evidence for the marked presence of ecological attitudes in Canada's mental history. The origin of these attitudes can be traced back to at least the 18th century. By way of generalising, one could argue that literature reflects, and provides subtle insights into, how both native Canadians and immigrant settlers have responded to their 'eco-sphere'. For many Canadian texts bear witness to a thematic preoccupation with the Canadian oikos-area (oikos signifying 'house' in a narrower sense but also 'habitat' in a wider), to which its inhabitants have established a meaningful relationship.
 
No doubt, even a preliminary attempt to explore ecological attitudes in Canadian literature more systematically would be a multi-facetted and difficult task. One of the major practical problems that poses itself immediately is: Which texts could, and ought to be examined? For there are innumerous references to environmental attitudes and ideas in all literary genres -- also in a great many fictional texts, both traditional and contemporary. For the purpose of research and study it would be extremely helpful indeed, if there were comprehensive bibliographical aids that would enable us to approach, and familiarize ourselves with, all these texts more conveniently. But the challenge of collecting pertinent data of this general kind would have been far beyond my scope and resources. This is why the present guide limits its focus to poetry.
 
The working hypotheses motivating this tentative compilation are:
 
i. Poetry is a more ubiquitous literary genre than fiction and drama. According to available evidence, more writers seem to have tried out their skills on poetry than on fiction and drama. Therefore poetry is likely to mirror a greater variety of voices and sentiments.
 
ii. Poems are still a relatively untapped source in the current discussion about the environment. However, a great many poetic texts lend themselves to supplying relevant arguments that could be used in various fields of action such as environmental ethics, evironmental education and, last but not least, conservation.
 
iii. Apart from smaller pieces of the "nature writing" variety, poems dealing with nature and environmental issues are comparatively short, aiming as they do at a single focus and effect. This is why they can be opened up for critical inspection more easily than selected passages from, say, a novel, which would have to be related to the context of the whole work.
 
iv. This guide attempts to direct the user's attention to poems that are accessible in anthologies. A strong argument for selecting poems from anthologies rather than from individual writers' collections is that the anthology editors are likely to have selected precisely those poems of whose appeal to their respective readerships they must have been thoroughly convinced. Thus the mere fact that a poem has been anthologized suggests that it can be considered an important element in the process of Canadian culture building. Therefore, the very poems that have been frequently anthologized could perhaps serve as special barometers of the Canadian ecological sensibility at a given historical moment.
 
The following arguments throw some light on the present context of literary studies and claim a strong case for a new ecocritical approach to literature. Without any doubt, a new ecologically-enlightened perspective might bring about a fresh and fruitful re-exmination of the very poems to which this guide directs its readers.
 
2. The Present Context of Ecologically-Oriented Studies in Literature
 
The Tendency towards Avoiding Ecological Issues in the Humanities
 
Apart from a few noteworthy exceptions, the Humanities at North American as well as European universities have been deplorably remiss in dealing with the environmental crisis and investigating its philosophical implications. Living in an ivory tower and being absorbed in their own fashionable propensities, the Humanities in academia tend not to pay specific attention to the problem of ecological issues. There is little readiness to accept the stipulation that, in adjusting to the present environmental challenges, we would urgently need an exploration of the concepts of nature we harbour. These mental images of nature would have to be seen in relation to our own self-image, the image of the 21st-century human being. Such a revision of our mental images of both nature and ourselves could be conducive to a new ecological civilization.
 
Some Basic Eco-Philosophical Assumptions
 
As has often been pointed out, a key to the ideological macrostructure by which we live can be found in such philosophers as Francis Bacon, John Locke and René Descartes. Unintentionally, they have become the great representatives of modern attitudes towards nature. The standard definition of mankind's role can perhaps be suitably clarified if we look at the following statement made by Francis Bacon in 1603:
 
I am come in very truth leading nature to you, with all her children, to bind her to your service and to make her your slave. ... So may I succeed in my only earthly wish, namely to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man's dominion over the universe to their promised bounds ... .
 
As is well known, this energetic enfranchisement from traditional restraints has been endorsed by the Biblical command: " ... and have dominion over the fish of the seas, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis, I, 28). What strikes us most is an apparent "human chauvinism" , a downright anthropocentric view which claims that humans are given privileged power over Nature and everything that exists within it. This has led to the notion so much cherished in the 20th century "that human beings are so special that the earth exists for our comfort and disposal alone."
 
The old paradigm of human dominion over nature can be correlated to the concepts of ego-consciousness and self-interest and their ideological implications. Max Horkheimer put the case in the following manner: "The entire universe becomes a tool of the ego, although the ego has no substance or meaning except in its own boundless activity." He juxtaposes "an abstract ego as undisputed master", on the one hand, and "a nature stripped of inherent meaning", on the other. This ego obscures its desires by resorting to "vague absolutes such as the ideas of progress, success, happiness, or experience" . Here Horkheimer aptly describes the deeply ingrained Western yearning for the power to shape reality to the individual's own desires and designs.
 
At an epistemological level, ego-consciousness is prone to massive self-deception; for it tends to misjudge man's role in the natural environment. The biologist and philosopher Bateson goes so far as to equate the epistemological error comitted by the ego-conscious modern self with a fundamental ecological error when he states:
 
When you narrow down your epistemology and act on the premise "What interests me is me, or my organization, or my species," you chop off consideration of other loops of the loop structure. You decide that you want to get rid of the by-products of human life and that Lake Erie will be a good place to put them. You forget that Lake Erie is part of your wider eco-mental system - and that if Lake Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated in the larger system of your thought and experience.
 
Ego-consciousness Should Be Replaced by Eco-consciousness
 
What should replace the concepts of ego-consciousness and self-interest is a new eco-consciousness or environmental consciousness. The latter is characterized by an awareness of "being together in a togetherness of beings" . Furthermore, "Ecological Consciousness presupposes a participatory science in which the observer is not alienated from the observed", Bill Devall states . It is "rooted", he says, "in a profound understanding of organic unity" . This type of consciousness can be found in authors such as Aldo Leopold and some of the contemporary ecologists "who move beyond the narrow confines of quantification into a phenomenological understanding of organic unity" .
 
The stipulation underlying the present approach to Canadian literature, and poetry in particular, is that literary criticism should again put "nature" and the "natural environment" on the agenda. According to the German literary theorist and critic Wolfgang Iser, literature since the 18th century has tended to foreground such ideas and problems as have usually been stifled and repressed in the pre-dominant ideology of each respective period. If we are prepared to adopt this view, then literature contains a subversive potential which questions the validity of dominant ideologies. In this connection it makes sense to assume that, at least since the Romantic period, a substantial body of literature has constantly challenged, and been subversive to, the mechanistic world view, which could also be called "the world view of Cartesian dualism" . In this connection one might argue "that nature-oriented literature" has often tended to offer "a needed corrective" to the mechanistic world view. Such nature-oriented literature has a high regard -either implicit or explicit - "for the non-human":
 
While the critical interpretation, taken as a whole, tends to regard ego-consciousness as the supreme evidence of literary and critical achievement, it is eco-consciousness which is a particular contribution of most regional literature, of nature-writing, and of many other ignored forms and works, passed over because they do not respond to the anthropocentric - let alone modernist and post-modernist - assumptions and methodologies.
 
The New Aims and Pursuits of Ecocriticism
 
I suggest that in the present period, which is characterized by a crisis of confidence, literary criticism should look for a new model, or even a new paradigm, of research. In view of the current state of literary studies, we could gain inspiration from the newly fledged field of ecocriticism (Buell, Glotfelty and Fromm, Kroeber), which, however, has not yet gained official recognition. If we were to introduce an ecologically oriented criticism into the study of Canadian literature (and, of course, other literatures), we would be able to discover a new semantic space between natural and cultural processes, whose study might be fruitful in the long run - last but not least because of its practical implications as far as the struggle for human survival is concerned. Ecocriticism could acclimatize some as yet unfamiliar ecological ideas in order to make the study of literature a lively and vibrant discipline again, one that does not abstain from political involvement any longer and does not couch its insights in such a language that those who are outside academia cannot understand it. An ecologically enlightened form of literary criticism could dig out age-old verities about the human role in the universe, save them from oblivion and use them for creating a body of shared beliefs. It could ask new questions that are vital to us and elicit stimulating answers from a great variety of texts. A new ecological lens could refract old truths in a new light and assign a topical importance to them. At a deeper and more fundamental level, ecological criticism could throw into relief the validity of a specific mode of experience which is characteristic of literary texts and might be described as experiential analysis:
 
Experiential analysis produces not information about something, as is the case in objective studies, but rather inimate knowledge that something is the case, knowledge of, or knowledge for some purpose. ... Experiential analysis is the pursuit of directness and immediacy; it is ... the adoption of a stance or complete surrender to experience.
 
Ecological criticism could bring into focus a store of forgotten knowledge. In short, if literary criticism were to ratify this new ecological agenda it could use literature for constructing new mental pictures of the world. It could contribute to translating the psychological potentialities of an alternative life, as well as of different lifestyles, into an existential reality. Since literary discourse has for a long time been alienated from life, literature itself could be re-invested with a meaningful voice. In a fruitful conjunction with literature, literary criticism would have a very visible gap to fill in public discourse.
 
Some New Core Criteria for Literary Analysis
 
If the new paradigm could be agreed on, what would be the major topics and questions worth pursuing? At the present stage of research, only a preliminary answer can be given. However, four areas of concern come to mind immediately:
 
i. The human self-image in relation to the natural environment.
 
Here the relevant question is: How do humans define themselves when they are confronted with nature and the natural environment? Do they assume the roles of the usurping landtakers or of "God's stewards"? How do they describe and define their reactions? What characteristic modes of response emerge?
 
ii. The basic human attitudes towards both Nature and the non-human environment such as land, sea, animals, plants.
 
Are humans able to transcend their own selves and empathize with the landscape and its fauna and flora? In this connection, the old question of "what is Nature?" could be replaced by the empirical question: "How have humans dealt with their natural environment under the influence of their respective culture in specific historical periods and in identifiable places?" What significant patterns become recognizable?
 
iii. Exploitation and / or symbiosis?
 
Are humans irresponsible 'landtakers' or do they attempt to adapt to their environment? To what extent do they uncritically indulge in their anthropocentric views? Do they practice or question a go-ahead economy and technology?
 
iv. The aesthetic perception of natural phenomena.
 
The poems mentioned in this guide reveal a great variety of viewpoints and perceputal procedures by which the mood and atmosphere of the natural environment is grasped by the speaker and mediated to the reader. Thus, an aspect that should be given primary attention while analysing the poems is the role and stance of the speaker and the way in which he/she defines his/her relationship with the natural phenomena that are referred to. The focus on the speaker may give the key to further aspects of the aesthetic act of representation. What is important in this connection is that aesthetic perception and representation do not come about without the speaker's emotional involvement. This leads up to the following point.
 
v. Feelings and emotions.
 
As is well-known, modern alienation from the natural environment impairs positive protective attitudes. Special attention should therefore be given to the intimate connection between the aesthetic and emotional dimension of the nature experience we encounter in literary texts. In all Canadian poems, the human perception of natural phenomena is impregnated with sense-impressions and feelings. In this connection Emerson's statement deserves prominent mention: "This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used." Also consider Thoreau: "A man has not seen a thing who has not felt it." Thus many texts dealing with the experience of nature appeal strongly to the reader's emotions. Ideally, the emotional potential inherent in the texts unfolds a subversive dynamic by making the reader disavow any connection with the destructive ideologies predominant in the world today (if only momentarily during the reading process). Having their personal perceptions sharpened, it is up to the readers to decide on what would be suitable to do. This is where green poetry manifests a close relation to environmental ethics.
 
A New Agenda
 
How we inhabit a country depends on how we imagine the land and its creatures. Since Canada is such a vast country and ranks among the most important nations of the world, it would be well-advised to become aware of its ecocritical potential. It is a safe assumption that, like the literatures of many other countries, Canadian literature too contains a substantial body of knowledge that could be deployed to constitute the imaginative core of an environmental ethic. The new task that literary critics should set for themselves would be to create new critical idioms and to ask new questions.
 
When focusing on a selection of the poems listed here, literary criticism could become instrumental to sensitizing people to nature's measure again in order to avoid retribution from the biosphere. Seen in a broader perspective, the experience recorded in Canadian poetry is a cultural energy that can be reactivated and brought to public consciousness. It would be the critics' supreme duty "to translate literature into purgative-redemptive biospheric action" . Even on the limited basis of poetry, one could generate an awareness of our own human complicity in the destruction, and our own imaginative capital for the preservation, of Canada and our planet.
 
The selection of the following poems has been made to serve this agenda.