Environmental Poetry

Ecopoetry is another form of environmental writing, primarily using its content to bring awareness to humans, showing how our actions consequently impact environment. Heise states that ‘ecopoetry is “related to the broader genre of nature poetry but can be distinguished from it by its portrayal of nature as threatened by human activities.”’

Irish poet, Derek Mahon looks at the relationships between humans and the environment in his poem, ‘A Swim in Co. Wicklow’, using a beach as a microcosm to portray our wrongdoings to the ocean. He works at decentering the human and uncovering the physical presence of water as an equal force. The language used to describe water becomes increasingly harsh and dangerous as the poem progresses, which could be seen as the water rebelling against the actions of us as humans. Angela Hume states that ‘in contemporary ecopoetry, nature is no longer idyllic or constant’, suggesting this use of language portrays the voice and actuality of the environment, rather than its idealised form. Humans are shown to view water as a ‘dazzling shore’, when really the ocean ‘comes foaming at the mouth/ to drown you in its depths’. This constructed idea of Nature being something beautiful and untouched is destabilised by the poem, creating the realisation that the sea isn’t just ‘dazzling’ and beautiful in the way it is depicted and idealised. In reality, the ocean is full of plastic, waste and oil, it’s dangerous and it’s dirty, as a result of our actions.

Mahon also uses his poem to expose the commodification of water. He labels humans as a ‘rogue gene’, suggesting that a multitude of effects stem from our anthropocentric way of treating water as a resource. The concept of using water for our own benefit, other than to survive, is portrayed when it says,

‘and the quiet suburban pool                                                                                                            is only for the fearful’

This idea of man-made bodies of water being created for the fearful, suggests that the ocean is perceived as wild and dangerous, when it does not match up to the serene idealised version that is depicted elsewhere. We essentially tame water by taking it out of its natural habitat and replacing it in controlled spaces such as swimming pools. By displacing water in order to create new safe spaces for our own use, we are commodifying it. (With exceptions made for inland spaces or areas when the sea is too polluted for it to be safe.) Instead of swimming in oceans and lakes we are trapping water and creating places that we haven’t yet touched or ruined.

Ecopoetry as a form brings a stark awareness to our actions and the changes that we are causing upon this Earth, but this is not bringing change. There is a great value in connecting issues of environmental crisis through poetry, although there are limitations in terms of who accesses and reads this poetry.  It is up to people and companies in high places of power to bring this change. Maybe they should be the audience to which ecopoetry is aimed?


Pollution Solution: Look into and support charities that produce new products which help with waste management, such as ocean cleaning bins that filter water to collect rubbish. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2099339-ocean-cleaning-sea-bins-will-gobble-up-plastic-waste-to-recycle/



Shoptaw, J, ‘Why Ecopoetry?’, Poetry, vol. 207, no. 4, (2016).

Mahon, Derek, ‘A Swim in Co. Wicklow’ Collected Poems (2016)

Hume, Angela,  ‘Ecopoetry’ in Analytical Overviews: Literary Periods, Schools & Movements (2015)

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