We often lose sight of the environment in seeking to conquer it. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in better gear, tougher trails and higher climbs, and forget what got you out there in the first place. Humans do not seek suffering solely for glory, there has to be some reward to keep us coming back. The same applies to great writing. What makes us reread a sentence? Come back to a poem? We may read hundreds of pages of drivel to discover one nugget of truth; we may hike days in the rain for one hour of sunlight. The great moments are the ones that keep our boots on, our chins up and our spirits high.
What if you could get that feeling by reading a poem? These poems were written in a bygone era and yet they still drive us out of the house. Even now, their words inspire action and ask us to consider our environment. They ask us to take responsibility for and enjoy the Earth. These poets embody the Sierra Club’s motto to “Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet.”
In honor of the conclusion of National Poetry Month here are some poems that will light a fire in the belly of anyone who’s ever been outside.
William Wordsworth’s 1798 poem quickens the heart with frantic pleas. He urges us to quit our books, shut down our laptops and get “Up! Up!”
The Tables Turned
Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
As a Sierra Club charter member, Charles Keeler worked to preserve the Berkeley Hills and went on to direct San Francisco's Natural History Museum at the California Academy of Sciences. Keeler bemoans man’s victory over nature and suggests one last conquest.
Man the Conqueror
One by one hast thou conquered the elements, masterful man,
Taming the stream and electrical spark to thy will,
To speed thee o’er land and o’er sea at thy beck and thy nod;
Boring like mole through the mountains and under the rivers,
Diving like penguin beneath the wild waters and rising
To ride on the waves unconcerned by thy triumphs surpassing.
Now thou hast mastered the air, and thy ships go careering
Skyward to vie with the eagle, by danger undaunted.
What is there left for thy conquest, unsatisfied monarch?
What but thyself, Cosmic Caesar, who owns none for master!
Of old it was said, “Know thyself,” but I say to thee and further,
“Go, conquer thyself” – that will make thee commander-in-chief,
With armies of passions rebellious subdued and submissive,
A monarch ‘twill make thee, with hopes and with fears for thy subjects;
Nay, ‘twill make thee a god, and the world will be thine where thou walkest.
What are your favorite poems? Who inspires you to get outside?
-- top image courtesy of iStock/mothy20
-- Images courtesy of Sierra Club Archives
Caitlin Kauffman is an editorial intern for Sierra. She is a sea kayak and hiking guide in the Bay Area and the Greater Yellowstone area. She enjoys good eye contact and elk burgers.