By the early 1980’s “ecological metaphors” were all the rage, or at least had their moment in the Oregon sun when Wendell Berry, after giving a reading of his own poetry, also gave a lecture out in the Rose Garden during the Portland Poetry Festival that August. I happened to be sitting on a semi-circular cement embankment within earshot of Bill during that presentation in which Berry was attempting to define a poetic aesthetic regarding “nature poetry.” That dissertation was quite ambitious and comprehensive. One among its many examples of illustrious poets who had substituted mental fantasies for more down-to-earth, more-closely-engaged descriptions of nature was Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Berry’s argument was incisive and full of corroborating examples, indicting Shelley for projecting his erotic dreams onto nature from “Mont Blanc,” to the Vale of Kashmir, to the forests above Florence in a gathering October storm. Shelley had clearly allowed his imagination too much license, to the point of dangerous manipulation of facts and conspicuous over-consumption of nature’s beauties to facilitate his own myth-making. And the consequence of these choices put Shelley’s poetry on the side of Wall Street mass marketing and self-aggrandizement that threatened the planet with Mutually Assured Destruction.
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