Sean O’ Carroll, Lucid Nature: Poems from a year in Wild Dog Valley. Melbourne: Wild Mind, 2017. ISBN 978-0-6480252-5-2
Thriveni C Mysore
Like the definition of ‘poetry’, the definition of ‘Nature’ has retained its ‘freedom’ from being expressed and explained in a couple of words.
Contemporary poetry favours free forms not inundated by rhetorical terms. Without bringing Sean O’Carroll’s Lucid Nature under the technical microscope of stressed and unstressed syllables, one can still enjoy the progressive expression of varied feelings of the poet, feelings that manifest subtly, provoking deep thoughts.
Lucid Nature, a collection of poems written by O’Carroll in Wild Dog Valley, would have nicely accommodated a few words of introduction as to it being poems written by the poet who worked towards re-wilding Wild Dog Valley, a 65 acre property in South Gippsland, Australia, land that was almost given up for cattle grazing.
The poet’s intentional togetherness with Nature to understand life in a better way has made him to create a wild-path for the reader to appreciate elegant Nature, too. Equipped with the knowledge of the geographic details of the valley, Nature in all its suddenness, ecological elements, spirituality and the likes, the poet trudges along, gathering the spirits of imagination, weeding out misconceptions, recognising nature right from grassroots.
146 poems with titles are grouped under, ‘Nature’, ‘Poetry’, ‘Relationship’, ‘Self’, ‘Men’, ‘Living’, and ‘Being’. Lucid Nature opens with the poem, ‘That’s where I’ll be’ (14). Creating a clear picture of Wild Dog Valley, the poet beckons the reader to experience surrounding Nature, instructing all the while, yet, sweeping in an air of warmth like an appreciative host:
Stay close to the wall
If you don’t wish to fall
And make for the peak that you see
The poet cautions the reader about experiencing ‘intended loneliness’ with Nature, an art to be acquired and practiced to perfection in order to appreciate the experience:
And alone at the top
With the wolves and the gods
And the wild ones
That’s where I’ll be
There is not a single point in the poem that detracts the reader from the central focus of the narrative.
As if in continuation, the second poem, ‘Lucid Nature’ (15) follows beautifully, enhancing rather than enforcing the familiar imagination of the poet. He says;
You do not respect nature
You do not trust nature
You do not love nature
You cannot regard nature in this way
Anymore than a river can have feelings for water
This reminds me of the philosopher Confucius.
Confucius defined ‘Shu’ both positively and negatively. In a negative sense he said: ‘What you do not wish others to do unto you, don’t do it to others.’ Speaking positively, he said: ‘What you wish to do for yourself, do it to others. … Help others as you would help yourself.’ He did not speak of ‘doing unto others as you want others to do unto you’, because he thought that one’s own conscience should be the origin of good deeds (Wang 1968, 23).
Applying Confucian understanding, this can also be interpreted as: ‘If disrespected, nature does not respect you / If distrusted, nature does not trust you / If un-loved nature does not love you / If regarded in the way as done at present, nature cannot have anymore feelings than that as water to river’. The poet continues:
To be fully human
Is to fall
You are after all
Trying to uncover the meaning of life, possibly through Nature, the poem, ‘It is not nature I crave’ (16) states:
It is not nature I crave
Though truth abounds
The poet, as narrator, expresses his concern that the truth he is seeking is not outside but is reflected within:
The mirror of the city
The mirror of nature
Lines that describe the repetitive tenor of the poet’s unpretentious intentions are:
Every man ought spend
A year in the woods
These lines appear in the poem, ‘A year in the woods’(19), dedicated obviously to the man who made the woods famous, Thoreau. To feel connected to Nature, to experience special insight, the poet asks the reader:
Sit in stillness, with
Nothing to accomplish
Find that birds, do
Not speak gibberish
Let the stream caress his dreams
And nurse his childhood wounds
To satisfy the self by being with Nature, is to understand poet’s view:
A year in the woods
May not make him whole
But will fix some of what’s broken
And help him see
That what is said
Is more than what is spoken
Every man ought spend
A year in the woods
Modulating syllables and sounds harmonically in the poem, ‘The wind’, the poet adds an enchanting imagery,
Taps me on the shoulder
Like an old friend
Gesturing towards the natural world
With its likeness to ballad, the poem, ‘The city makes us small’ (30), reads like music with reason, acting on one’s conscience. ‘The city makes us small / Blocks out all horizons / And dampens every star? / The city makes us small’ (30). This pattern continues locking one’s thoughts within the brackets of ‘The city makes us small’, and keeps changing the train of thoughts at each turn of a paragraph. The poet establishes the fact:
The city makes us small
The city makes us fools
There’s a wisdom in the woods
A knowing that’s worth knowing
The poet sings perception of harmony in ‘An ode to white butterflies’ (37), and conveys with internal rhymes, the true meaning of Nature in ‘The nature of nature’ (48).
Lucid Nature keeps up the regular rhythm and maintains tempo nicely, but, somewhere down the poetic valley, the focus of the poet shifts, towards art of poetry, relationships, spirituality, quest for the meaning of ‘I’, the self, familial bonds, purposes in relationships and such other materialistic, inexhaustible variety of ideas.
Inevitably, the reader loses track amidst Wild Dog Valley, because of the poet’s irrepressible excitement.
A syllogism can be drawn here: ‘Lucid Nature’ is one of the finest empathetic eco-poems in Sean O’ Carroll’s year long collection of poems while staying in Wild Dog Valley. Not all poems in Lucid Nature are empathetic eco-poems.
Lucid Nature’s poet is a promising poet in the making. There is a literary perception of Johnsonean principles of Unity that could be applied to the appreciation of Poetics too. But there is this concept of Poetic License. Sean O’ Carroll’s understanding of Consensus Nature Philosophy will enchant the futuristic literary world, his thoughts appealing more to heart than to just conscious feelings. I am reminded of Johnson’s words:
Dryden remarks that Milton has some flats among his elevations. This is only to say that all the parts are not equal. In every work one part must be for the sake of others; a palace must have passages, a poem must have transitions. It is no more to be required that wit should always be blazing than that the sun should always stand at noon. In a great work there is a vicissitude of luminous and opaque parts, as there is in the world a succession of day and night. Milton, when he has expiated the sky, may be allowed sometimes to visit the earth; for what other author ever soared so high or sustained his flight so long? (Johnson 1779: 210)
Johnson, Samuel. 1779. Prefaces to the Works of English Poets. Vol. 2. London.
Wang, Gung-Hsing. 1968. The Chinese Mind. New York: Greenwood Press.
Thriveni C Mysore is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Program, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.