April 26th, 2008
Poets have been influencing by many different events or places or things. They use these to form thoughts are morph them into words and phrases on paper and produce what is known as poetry. We have studied different poets from the past hundred years or so and each one had a distinct voice but with similar ideas in their time. The “older, classic US” poets had a certain tone throughout their poetry, but the more contemporary modern poets drew upon a very different tone. There is a contrast of tones between the two extremities of the range of years studied; they both talk about the same themes but in a different manner. The more recent the poetry was written, the more “real” the message is. For the older poetry, the message comes across in a sort of fantasy or ethereal where nothing is wrong and all is one.
In “Walden”, Henry David Thoreau talks about his two-year experiment of living near Walden Pond, a place where one can be one with nature. His efforts of doing go towards his message that people should go back to nature and stop letting the developing technology and industry take over and run their lives. During his stay at Walden Pond, Thoreau did everything by himself and for himself. Despite his starting materials, he developed a lifestyle of a nature-man, one that is very self-sufficient. He tells of nature as being something that one can only feel and be truly happy with by direct experience with it. He advocates, although maybe not directly, for the protection and love of nature. He criticizes modern society at the time many times in his book, and goes on the radical tone for nature as great place for mankind.
Walt Whitman has the same idea as Thoreau, in his “Song of Myself”. Whitman describes his many feelings of nature in sections of the poem, which all tend to be on the positive side of nature as a whole. He describes different lifestyles of woodsmen that sleep and hunt and do many things like Thoreau did in Walden, but these people have lived like this their whole life, not just two years. Whitman had a great appreciation for these people and wished he could have lived this kind of lifestyle. He tells how people should get a better appreciation for nature and have direct experiences with it. People can get a sense of beauty and knowledge of life through these experiences and being in nature.
However, these classic writers were around for a much different time, era, and place than what we are all used to in the modern age. Thoreau was able to go live at Walden Pond for those years because it was available to him. He was able to have a true direct experience with what he believed to be nature, which was just enough away from society so that he could be in his idea of what wilderness should be. Whitman wrote Song of Myself from influences of direct experience with nature and other’s experience with nature of that time. The writers had this “true” nature available to them to draw influences from and write about. This is not true in recent times. Modern writers do not have this type of nature available to them. The older nature has become overrun by technology and the housing expansion spree of the past quarter century (that maybe even started earlier than that). The essence of nature that Thoreau and Whitman possessed with their experiences of nature has decayed over time to what we call nature now. People nowadays cannot do everything that Thoreau and Whitman and everyone else did back in those times to experience nature. They have to go to a park and experience what has been spared by the government and the park authority. Visitors to these parks still have traces of human influence on nature all around them: walkways and paths, lodges, lampposts, roads, etc. This has become the overall idea of nature for our modern times, and even these parks and places for nature are still in decay. At Yellowstone National Park, the various wonders throughout the park are being polluted by humans. The hot water springs are having cups and trash thrown into them, clogging their inner plumbing’s and killing the springs. In an episode of The Simpsons that takes place in the “not-so-distant future”, there is a holographic memorial that looks like a tree. The plaque on the memorial says that this is in memory of trees throughout the world. Although this is just supposed to be a humorous gag in a comedic cartoon, it leaves a strong message, and this message is what modern writers draw upon.
Modern writers convey a message in their work, a message of general realization of what is happening in our world or their area and in what little left of nature we have. In “The Concrete River” by Luis Rodriguez, the words he uses to describe Los Angeles’s “nature” leave a taste of bitterness and horridness. He doesn’t directly say that he would like to have nature be the way it was when Thoreau and Whitman were around, but he definitely leaves an impression for the improvement of it. He describes the lifestyle and memories of life in LA throughout the book. What he describes would make Thoreau appalled and Whitman sad at what life has become for these people, but these people know no other life. This is the only life they have lived and what is normal to them. In the poem “Watts Bleeds”, Rodriguez tells of a depraved town. He words like “burned-out buildings”, “broken windshields”, and “crumbling factory walls” and a title like Watts Bleeds, one can get a sense of how this place is. Rodriguez shows signs of hopefulness for this poor community, however. He gives an idea that maybe this place was not like this. With the stanza, “Oh bloom, you trampled flower!/ Come alive as once / you tired to do from the ashes”, he advocates for a revival of this place. He points out the problems in the east LA community in his book, and although he does not leave us with solutions on how to improve all these things, maybe a reader of all this might get influenced from this book and come up with effective solutions of their own. The way he describes these problems makes the reader want to fix them. In the poem “The Concrete River”, he tells of the environment of the area: “Not like the black oil stains we lie in, Not like the factory air engulfing us; Not this plastic death in a can.” He points out the causes of these problems. He then tells us of an almost fantasy river with sunlight dancing on the surface and fish swimming happily in the water. He then criticizes the lifestyle of modern society, much in a way like Thoreau did in Walden, with “Oh, we should be novas of our born days. We should be scraping wet dirt with calloused toes. We should be flowering petals / playing ball.” Unlike Thoreau, however, this youth does not have nature available to them, only what is left of it and most likely not around them. The youth have to resort to other measures to achieve happiness, things like drugs and criminal activity to get what they want. This is reality; this is not fiction. Despite the time span between Thoreau and Rodriguez, they still share this theme of society and nature. The way they portray this theme is how they differ.
Both sides of the time spectrum agree on the positives of nature, but one side differs from the other based on what was happening around them and what was around them. Thoreau was all for conservation of the wilderness, while Rodriguez had none of that. Thoreau also never fully outright spoke down and fully condemned civilization, while also never fully embracing wilderness, same with Rodriguez. They both believed in a sense of balance between the two to fully achieve happiness, a yin-yang philosophy. Rodriguez didn’t reject the way his society lived, he just asked for improvements and to have what used to be the tiniest bit of nature that they had and revive and cherish it. Despite the gloomy and depressing tones of Rodriguez’s poems, there is a sense of hopefulness that calls for that specific message. All in all, the poets are call for an overall change in everyone’s attitude with nature and with their lifestyle in general. People should be seeking constant yet reasonable improvement and balance within their lives.
In conclusion, I have found that although the writers that we have studied (Thoreau and Whitman and Rodriguez) lived in different times, they still conveyed the same message for the readers. This went against my first thoughts that the themes would be far different because of the different events and environments the writers lived in. But even with the time difference and variations of urbanism between them, they still advocated for the same thing.