Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

KSN - Vol 22, No 2 - Nature Poetry II Cover: Quotations about Nature

Volume 22, Number 2 - December 1975

Nature Poetry II

by John Breukelman

PDF of Issue


Published by Emporia Kansas State College

Prepared and issued by The Division of Biology

Editor: Robert J. Boles

Editorial Committee: James S. Wilson, Gilbert A. Leisman, Thomas Eddy, Robert F. Clarke

Online format by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by the Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

"Statement required by the Act of October, 1962: Section 4369, Title 39, United States Code, showing Ownership, Management and Circulation." The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. The Naturalist is edited and published by the Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Editor, Robert J. Boles, Department of Biology.

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as supply lasts, except Vol.5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Division of Biology, Emporia Kansas State College, Emporia, Kansas, 66801.

Ruth and John Breukelman


The author of "Nature Poetry II" was a professor of biology at KSTC from 1929 until his retirement in 1968. He was the chairman of the committee that founded The Kansas School
Naturalist in 1954. and was the editor for the first 14 years. Breukelman Hall, the biology part of the science-mathematics complex, was named in his honor in 1970. The Breukelmans
celebrated their 50th anniversary in July 1975.


In addition to those mentioned elsewhere, I wish to acknowledge Dr. Robert J. Boles for the drawings on pages 5, 10, and 12. Dr. James S Wilson for the photos of the petunia and crocus. Jacob Miller for the photo of the house sparrow, the Kansas State Historical Society, Eugene D. Decker, Archivist, for the photo of the Santa Fe Trail (taken west of Dodge City in the mid-fifties), and my wife Ruth for her assistance in the selection of poems and for her careful reading of the manuscript. All photos not otherwise credited are from my own files.


  1. THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN, Geoffrey Chaucer, 1340-1400

  2. AS YOU LIKE IT, William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

  3. LYCIDAS, John Milton, 1608-1674

  4. DIVINE SONGS, Isaac Watts, 1674-1749

  5. YOUTH AND AGE, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834

  6. AN APRIL DAY, Caroline Anne Southey, 1786-1854

  7. AURORA LEIGH, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806-1861

  8. Untitled, Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

  9. THE YEAR OF THE ROSE, Algernon Swinburne, 1837-1909

  10. THE ADVENTURERS, Henry Newbolt, 1862-1938

  11. ROMAN BARTHOLOW, Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1869-1935

  12. ODE TO WALT WHITMAN, Stephen Vincent Benet, 1898-1943

  13. POEMS: AN HANDFUL WITH QUIETNESS, John Stewart Carter, 1911-1965

  14. OVERLAND TO THE ISLANDS, Denise Levertov, 1923-

  15. SPHERE, A.A. Ammons. 1927-

  16. THE SOUND OF SILENCE, Paul Simon, 1941-

Nature Poetry II

by John Breukelman

Professor Emeritus of Biology

The favorable response to "Nature Poetry" (The Kansas School Naturalist, December 1973 ) has led to the decision by Editor Boles and myself to publish this "Nature Poetry II."

As noted in 1973, some nature poetry is only descriptive, but more often it makes use of figurative language, symbolism, and indirection, in order to set the stage for the expression of experience that may go far beyond mere description. And as Verne Rockcastle said in the March 1964 issue of The Cornell Science Leaflet, "Those who observe nature closely and with sympathy, and make the effort to share their observations and their feelings with others, do so in many ways. Some interpret with camera; some with paint and palette; some with song and story; some with prose. But some of the most vivid creations have come from the hand of the poet -- the one who writes with his soul in his hand."

These aspects of nature poetry were illustrated by examples from Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, Sara Teasdale, Judith Jacobs, Richard Dorer, Kenneth Porter, Verne Rockcastle, Gary Snyder, and the Japanese haiku writers Basho, Buson, and Bora. Also included were some "road poems" and "irregular haiku" supplied by James Mersmann, and two traditional American Indian poems. All this occupied about half of the space, the rest being taken up by my own writings and a couple from my daughters.

The present number differs from the previous one in two respects. First, except for the section on children's poetry, it consists of my own writings. This is in response to suggestions from several of you who commented on
"Nature Poetry." To quote one: "My pupils and I wish you had included more of your own poems. We can always find the others in the literature books and anthologies." And second, because several of you asked when this or that verse was written, I have this time dated all of them.

Many of you took the time to write or call about "Nature Poetry." Of those who had a favorite, or expressed one or more preferences, many more mentioned PLAINS OF KANSAS than any other, and Rolla Clymer did it the honor of reprinting it in the El Dorado Times, March 1, 1974. So we are starting "Nature Poetry II" by repeating the biggest vote getter from the previous number.


Since one of the most basic natural features in the Temperate Zone is the "swing of the calendar." Let's proceed with the seasons and the months of the year. And this being the December number of the Naturalist, let's start with winter.


The snow has begun in November
and busily throughout December
went on into seventy-three
with dull regularity.

All through the winter so nasty,
so blizzardy and so blasty,
so sleety and so slippery,
and with such icy frippery
that the old-timers can't recall
ever seeing such winter at all.


"Kansas is a level plain"
in the geography book,
but not where you stop your car
To get out and look.

Not at Coronado Heights
Or where the Flint Hills are,
Not at Tonganoxie Lake
Or Fegan or Lone Star,
And not the bluffs of Atchison,
The breaks of the Saline,
The chalk cliffs of the dinosaurs
Or the Barber County scene,
And not along the Skyline Road
Or Smoky Hill terrain-
But in the book Kansas is
A flat and level plain.


It's five below;
here by the fire
I can see iced snow
on the high-line wire.
Only reverie's fiat
brings movement of green
so frigidly quiet
is the whole snowy scene.


The white and purple prairie flowers
which brave the last defiant blasts
of wintry winds that blow in March
and whisper colored harmony
to those who are attuned to hear--
they betoken pregnant earth
teeming full of waking life;
they softly speak with confidence
of many more good things to come.


Here now is March which brings
variety along the way,
sometimes calm, sometimes wind,
often both in a single day;
sometimes !t,e wind blows up rain,
now it's bright, now it's gray,
but always spring means flowers,
in March, in April, and in May.


In the "good old summer time"
when lightning may strike,
that's when we get searing winds,
tornadoes, and the like.
Summer carries punishment--
heat, sunburn, and dust--
escape it when you're able,
endure it if you must,
- but -
when the thermometer breaks
one hundred in the shade,
that's when business picks up
for pop and lemonade,
we spend so little money
for heating oil and coal,
and that's when we appreciate
the old swimmin' hole.
Summer is essential
for most of what we eat,
and August to a baseball fan
is worth the sweat and heat.


Autumn leaves are brilliant
gold against the sky,
but autumn leaves are gorgeous
only when they die.
Autumn leaves are gorgeous,
yellow, brown, and red;
autumn leaves are brilliant
but autumn leaves are dead.


The geese against the blue
flying in patterned V's
seem to think the gusts
are but a gentle breeze.
But the whitecaps lend an air
of vigor to the lake,
and dancing fallen leaves
elude the active rake.
The windmill runs full speed
in the October gale;
the little boat seems dangerous
with full distended sail.


of cold sharp snows
in grinding streams
as the low wind moans
and the high wind screams.


"February hath XXVIII alone"
said Richard Grafton long ago
(Chronicles 1562).
This had for centuries been so
(Februs tenet octo vicenus),
and is so right now, except
in years divisible by IV
an extra day somehow has crept.
February makes it up with
stinging blizzards, weather rough,
snow and sleet and slush and stuff;
in Kansas we are all agreed
28's more than enough.


Windy March has come again;
across a Flint Hills valley flies
a lone blue heron, in and out
of moody clouds in doubtful skies.
The winds of March cannot decide--
now balmy, now a wintry blast,
with driving snow, then gentle rain;
March will settle down at last.


is when every day
has something to say.
That depends on who
it is she's talking to--
it's up to you.


Robert Frost said in Vermont:
"You know how it is with an April Day."
still and windy, warm and cold,
all the way from March to May.
Kansas April is even worse;
we're planning a camping trip, and so
a frigid wind from north and west
freezes April in ice and snow.
But April weather doesn't last
and by the next mid-afternoon
April goes in one big leap
to one of the perfect days of June.
April is a fickle month,
winter, summer, spring, and fall,
but April weather at its best
is worth it all, is worth it all.


Knowing only April
you could never have foretold
the grandeur of October's
yellow, lavender, and gold,
and the brightest bit of color
in October's gorgeous scene
is nature's certain promise
of next year's crop of green.


The promise in winter
comes true so soon
in June
when springtime changes
to summer in June
so soon.


"The struggle for existence"
is primary business
for any living thing that tries
biological success.
"Survival of the fittest"
surely must apply
to anything that can survive
in Kansas in July.


Summer's hot in Kansas,
all the home folks say;
if you visit Kansas
choose April or May.
If you live in Kansas
you must have a reason;
when you have vacation
you may choose the season
to get away from Kansas;
it may all be up to you,
but don't come back in August;
you'll be sorry if you do.


And nature now decides
her summer secrets
to be no longer worth
the trouble keeping;
the birds have left
their summer homes
and so the smoothly
interwoven nests
for which in June we strained
our eyes in vain
now stand out boldly in their
filligrees of twigs.


July is adolescent
September is mature
August is in doubt
September is quite sure
January is the baby
September fully grown
March is the footstool
September is the throne
September is the harvest
by April foretold
September is the promise
of October leafy gold.


turns the key
locks the door
and walks away
without a word
or backward look

He won't return.

A new tenant
will move in
right away


In 1935 I had the opportunity of hiking along the Santa Fe Trail in western Kansas for what seemed like a couple of miles. With my mind's eye I saw the traffic that wore down this tremendous roadway, which in many places still shows after all these years.


Stand here a little while
in the middle of these tracks,
these grass-grown ruts,
now almost healed
but once deep-worn and dusty,
deep-worn by many wheels
and many tired feet
of men and beasts--
stand here a little while and see
the canvas-covered schooners
on a grass-ocean route
pass by in patient lines
in spite of heat and cold
and thirst and hunger
and storm and drought
and loneliness
and sickness
and death--

stand here a little while
with head uncovered
and watch
"the winning of the West"
along this dusty trail
this long, tough,
dusty trail--

stand here a little while
before you brag again
of making it to Dodge City
in forty-three minutes.


Stand here-look across the ocean
of Kansas prairie-let your distant gaze
extend itself to where the sky and grass
extend itself to where the sky and grass

Stand here- across the Kansas ocean see
the flying fishes (crows and meadow larks)
as lightly as their scaly models swing
from grassy wave to wave in gentle arcs.

Here miles contract to little more than rods
and rods appear as inches on a screen
until the straining eyes have shifted gears
in keeping with the measure of the scene.

During our 46-year residence in one of the several "Gateways to the Flint Hills," there have of course been countless opportunities for poetical responses to the many stimulating elments of this marvelous region.


---a drive when the day is done
and sickness to see in the red of the evening sun
the scarlet sumac's finest skill,
Persian rugs on every hill--
shadows drawn in purple strokes
over russet of resting oaks--
poison ivy trying its best
to copy colors in which are dressed
the elm and the oak; still the wheat
insisting green is the one to beat.
No matter---even the weeds declare
October color magic is there
by a rural road for all to see---
at least for a dreamer such as me.


When Flint Hills autumn colors come
in all the range of dyes and tints,
it's mighty hard to squelch the urge
to send big Kodacolor prints
and colored booklets to describe
this most natural of the arts
to my senior citizen friends
retired to "more scenic" parts.


We ha ve long had a summer home in the Black Hills of South Dakota. These pine-clad mountains have often been the inspiration for verses.


Mount Rushmore:

Confer perpetual renown and honor
upon the Builders of America
whose unyielding faith
and indestructible devotion
made, and make, our country.

This granite shrine,
is only a colossal sculpture
America's devotion to right,
to liberty and justice for all,
now and forevermore,
be yet more indestructible
and more unyielding
than the Archean granite
in which the artist worked.


When a white concealing blanket hangs
below the bases of the granite teeth
hiding the dark green softness underneath,
a snarling mountain bares its jagged fangs.

Later, when the pines so gently wear
their fluffy vestments, white and soft,
contrasting with the granite pipes aloft,
a stately organ plays a mountain air.

Only a short distance east of the Black Hills are the Bad Lands, a weird assemblage of erosion patterns now incorporated into the Bad Lands National Monument.


a climate lush
with crocodiles
and palms
and inexorable change
to grass and horses
and camels
to rising land
and erosion
and colors
with dinosaurs
and tiny lizards
and turtles---

all recording change
which you can see
if you know
how to look---

you can see it all
even including
the present.


We human beings, though we may be the "Lords of creation", should not forget that we ourselves are a part of nature. "Man and Nature" is a misleading concept: it is really "Man in Nature."


It's a sobering thought:
the extinction of Homo sapiens
would be followed by
for nearly all other animal species,
for all except a few---
house rats
house mice
house sparrows
and a few others---
only these constant companions
of Homo sapiens
would suffer from
his absence.


Listen to a pack
of barking dogs;
only one of them
is barking
at anyone thing;
this dog
could be called
the leader;
the others
are barking at him;
are so much
like people.


Tall and straight
tall and crooked
short and straight
short and crooked
broken down by storm
standing after, leaning,
even held up by wires
they should support.
Telephone poles
are like men.


When you live
in camping terrain
your tent is your home,
your shelter from rain.

Unlike your house
(for what it is worth)
your tent lets you live
right next to the earth.


I became fascinated with haiku when I encountered them in a college English course. In its strict arrangement this Japanese verse form consists of three lines, of 17 syllables arranged 5-7-5. Because of its shortness the
haiku depends on suggestion and illusion; it cannot give a detailed description. This very limitation makes the haiku an interesting way to express a quick impression, a snapshot as it were, of a natural feature. I have had a lot of fun doing haiku.


You're a little pest;
you're over-populated,
but also friendly.


Hey, there, you rascal!
That feeder was intended
strictly for the birds.


Gentle warmth of June
heavy, humid July heat
dry, searing August.


Doubtful December
Jezebel January
firm February.


Gusty winds of March
gentle breezes of April
flowering of May.


Nightshade, tobacco,
tomato, henbane, and you---
what a family!


Brave little Krokus
even in February
notes the coming spring.


The winds of autumn
speak no promises, except
of snows of winter.


You're a fancy dude
with crest and brilliant raimentyou're
a nuisance too.


The triolet, because of its echoing lines, provides an interesting way to draw word pictures of nature.


Winter is not far away
when birches turn to gold;
all the signs of nature say
winter is not far away
with its cold-contracted day.
Though today may not be cold
winter is not far away
when birches turn to gold.


With tools of sun and rain
nature works her field.
She tills her whole domain
with tools of sun and rain.
She counts as worthy gain
all life the soil may yield.
With tools of sun and rain
nature works her field.


So gently he adorned her hair
with a yellow dogtooth violet,
his touch was light as April air,
so gently he adorned her hair;
perhaps he only put it there
so I could write this triolet;
so gently he adorned her hair
with a yellow dogtooth violet.


About three years ago I came to know Piet Hein's Grooks. A Danish mathematician, he writes grooks in his spare time. These have been defined as "small windows opening on a large world." Here are a few of my "outlooks
on an in nature" which I think may qualify.


Whatever else the kids may be,
this you'll have to face:
they are the only future
of the human race.


The recent report on dog food
raised a lot of fuss
just to prove our pooches
don't eat any better than us.


The reason that the springtime
so enriches lives:
exactly when we need it---
that's when spring arrives.


In the garden of living
there's youth and old age;
young people sow oats, and
old people grow sage.


Lord, I am a busy man,
my garden's small, and therefore
help me to keep from planting
more than I can care for.


With that golden oil
from our neighbor's soil
how apt that Mexico
rhymes with Texaco!


Careless words
like flitting birds
before a waterfall
but lightly caught
in misty thought
and never wet at all.


I am using the rest of my space for children's poetry. The youngsters seem to have a natural affinity for poetry. They like the rhythms and rhyme, the meter and balance. Many, if not most, of them like to make up verses, and prefer this activity to memorizing and analyzing the poetry of others. My daughter, Mrs. Claire Schelske, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, when she a pupil in the third grade at the laboratory school of the then Kansas State Teachers College, wrote several including SMOKEY.


My cat Smokey
is often pokey.
When its hot
he sleeps a lot.
Sometimes for fun
he likes to run.
When he wants to eat
he's hard to beat.

My daughter Mrs. Robert Yoder, of Peabody, Kansas, when she was teaching educable retarded children, used poetry as an interest developer. On one occasion she suggested the format:

  1. the subject
  2. two words describing the subject
  3. three words telling what the subject does
  4. four words telling how the subject makes me feel.

One of the boys wrote this:


They give milk.
Their milk tastes good.

The following is reprinted by permission of James V Stabile, Editor, from the May 1974 issue of Michigan Out-Doors, monthly publication of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.


Here are some cinquain poems which were written by students at the Ten-Mile Elementary School, Farmington, Michigan, while at the Mill Lake Outdoor Center. Try and see if you can write one of these poems yourself. To write one, first write down two words which generally describe the nature item you are writing about, then three action words about the subject, then a brief sentence which expresses one key thing about the item you are
describing; and then last a single word which sums up all of the other things you have said about your subject. You will be surprised with the results.


Barky, interesting
Dying, rotting, aging
The tree stump is a warm home
for different kinds of animals.
--Debbie Harmon


Eaten, Strong
Laying, decaying, fertilizing
it provides homes for animals
and insects.
--Susie Gucciardo


Rotting, dying, decaying
A weird, funny thing.
--Brian Corey

The following is reprinted by permission of John A. Gustafson, Editor, from the Autumn 1974 issue of Nature Study, quarterly journal of the American Nature Study Society.


The sun is going down, I see.
There are no sounds in the sky
or sea.
Just the world
and me.

--Amy Joy Dunbar
Hollis, N.H.
(age 8)

We have received three haiku and a limerick written by children who wish to remain anonymous. PINE TREE was written by a nine year old boy in a southern state. MY KITTEN by a ten year old girl in a western state. SNOWMAN and LOST MITTEN by an eleven year old girl in a northern state.


Oh, the small pine tree
gently swaying in the breeze
brings joy to my heart.


My little kitten
is chasing a butterfly
out of the garden.


You look so happy.
We're sorry you can't spend
next summer with us.


There once was a little black kitten
who lost his left-paw mitten;
he looked high and low
and said "one thing I know,
till I find it I won't be quitten'.

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