33 Poems on Nature That Honor the Beauty and Brutality of the Natural World
Poems on nature: during the height of mosquito season, they are our link to the outdoors, the only way to enjoy the great green world out there. (No? Just me? Okay.) The poet’s gaze, their observation and insight and word play, can bring the outdoors to us in ways we hadn’t considered, ways we might not have known to look. A good poem on nature slows us down. It reminds us of the dirt we walk on, the trees we pass by, the birds overhead, the hands that have tilled and planted, the survival of seeds — of animals, of humans — despite everything. And in that seeing, in that remembering, we honor the beauty and brutality of the natural world. To that end, here are 33 poems by poets who might not necessarily be considered “nature poets,” but whose nature poems are on point.
Now, first things first: I need you to know that I could fill an entire post with Mary Oliver poems on nature. In fact, I encourage you to check out posts from fellow Rioters: 5 Quotes from Mary Oliver Poems That Could Save Humanity; A Note of Gratitude to Mary Oliver on Her Birthday; and Buy, Borrow, Bypass: The Call to Language (or The Mary Oliver Edition). My best advice is to just go read all of Mary Oliver. Your soul will thank you.
The same would go for Wendell Berry, who is both a poet and a conservationist and has published widely in both poetry and nonfiction about the subject. And in fact, I would encourage you to check out Valerie Michael’s post 100 Must-Read Books About Nature (which include Berry). While not poetry, necessarily, this is a great list of books to help you get in touch with the aforementioned beauty and brutality.
And look, William Wordsworth and John Keats don’t need my help. But dang, they wrote a lot about nature. So follow those links if you want to check out the Romantics.
Without further ado, let’s get down to some nature poems.
“wild pansy” by lisa bellamy
As a seed, I was shot out the back end of a blue jay
when, heedless, she flew over the meadow.
She had swallowed me in my homeland when she spied me
lying easy under the sun—briefly, I called her Mother
before I passed through her gullet like a ghost.
“putting in the seed” by robert frost
You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree.
“south” by natasha trethewey
“What I would Like to Grow in my Garden” by katherine riegel
Peonies, heavy and pink as ’80s bridesmaid dresses
and scented just the same. Sweet pea,
because I like clashing smells and the car
I drove in college was named that: a pea-green
Datsun with a tendency to backfire.
“summer haibun” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night. Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other.
“hermitage” by Joseph Fasano
It’s true there were times when it was too much
and I slipped off in the first light or its last hour
and drove up through the crooked way of the valley
and swam out to those ruins on an island.
Blackbirds were the only music in the spruces,
and the stars, as they faded out, offered themselves to me
“The Fire” by katie ford
When a human is asked about a particular fire,
she comes close:
then it is too hot,
so she turns her face—
and that’s when the forest of her bearable life appears,
always on the other side of the fire. The fire
she’s been asked to tell the story of,
she has to turn from it, so the story you hear
is that of pines and twitching leaves
and how her body is like neither—
“To the cardinal, attacking his reflection in the window” by Leah Naomi Green
“It is your very self” I tell him.
He has never seen me.
His quick coin of breath disappears on the glass as it forms: air
that feeds his bones their portion
willingly as it feeds mine. He spends his here,
besieged by the dull birds who gather
and whom he cannot touch, his own feathers
red as wrought blood.
“hummingbird” by robin becker
I love the whir of the creature come
to visit the pink
flowers in the hanging basket as she does
most August mornings, hours away
from starvation to store
enough energy to survive overnight.
“mercy beach” by kamilah aisha moon
Stony trails of jagged beauty rise
like stretch marks streaking sand-hips.
All the Earth has borne beguiles us
& battered bodies build our acres.
“a sunset” by ari banias
I watch a woman take a photo
of a flowering tree with her phone.
A future where no one will look at it,
perpetual trembling which wasn’t
and isn’t. I have taken photos of a sunset.
“nature aria” by Yi Lei
translated by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi
Autumn wind chases in
From all directions
And a thousand chaste leaves
“The gray heron” by galway kinnell
It held its head still
while its body and green
legs wobbled in wide arcs
from side to side. When
it stalked out of sight,
I went after it, but all
I could find where I was
expecting to see the bird
was a three-foot-long lizard
in ill-fitting skin
and with linear mouth
expressive of the even temper
of the mineral kingdom.
“marriage” by nicole callihan
& of the lattermath I can only say
that with the rain the cattails grew so high
that the longing nearly subsided
this morning I am all moonshine on the snowbank
clockwise back to a better self I am
“merry autumn” by paul laurence dunbar
“shook foil” by kwame dawes
The whole earth is filled with the love of God.
In the backwoods, the green light
is startled by blossoming white petals,
soft pathways for the praying bird
dipping into the nectar, darting in starts
among the tangle of bush and trees.
“frogs eat butterflies. snakes eat frogs. hogs eat snakes. men eat hogs.” by wallace stevens
It is true that the rivers went nosing like swine,
Tugging at banks, until they seemed
Bland belly-sounds in somnolent troughs,
That the air was heavy with the breath of these swine,
The breath of turgid summer, and
Heavy with thunder’s rattapallax,
“how the milky way was made” by natalie diaz
My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red-
fast flood. Able to take
anything it could wet—in a wild rush—
all the way to Mexico.
“mulberry fields” by lucille clifton
“achingly beautiful how the sky blooms umber at the end of the day, through the canopy” by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Summers spent practicing in the apartment
stairwell: hand on the bannister, one foot after
another. Did I ever tell you I couldn’t walk
until I was three and then sort of dragged
myself up and downstairs until I was seven
or eight? That burgundy carpet.
“300 goats” by naomi shihab nye
“the praying tree” by Melinda Palacio
Ten years of driving the same highway, past the same tree, the
at last complete. The eucalyptus tree and narrow birds above a
steel sea with no thoughts of yesterday, today, or tomorrow.
“the negro speaks of rivers” by langston hughes
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
“in the clearing” by patricia hooper
After last night’s rain the woods
smell sensual—a mixture of leaves and musk.
The morels have disappeared, and soon I’ll come across
those yellow chanterelles, the kind they sell
in town at the farmers’ market. Once I saw
the Swedish woman who raises her own food
foraging for them, two blond boys
quarreling near the pickup, and the next morning
they were selling them from their stand beside the road.
“the world” by jennifer chang
“at the window” by d.h. lawrence
The pine-trees bend to listen to the autumn wind as it mutters
Something which sets the black poplars ashake with hysterical laughter;
While slowly the house of day is closing its eastern shutters.
“sonnet” by alice dunbar-nelson
I had no thought of violets of late,
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.
Hit the comments: what are your favorite poems on nature?