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 24, No 2 - Nature Poetry III

Volume 24, Number 2 - December 1977

Nature Poetry III

by John Breukelman

PDF of Issue


Published by Emporia State University

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, John Ransom

Online format by: Terri Weast

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.

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.

Issue author BreukelmanTHE AUTHOR

The author of "Nature Poetry III" was a professor at ESU 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. He is the author or co-author of 16 previous numbers of the Naturalist, the most recent
being "You Can Be Informed," October 1976. Breukelman Hall, the biology part of the science-mathematics complex, was named in his honor in 1970.


In addition to those mentioned elsewhere I wish to thank Editor Boles for the drawing on page 8 and for the photos of the rattlesnake and the tree roots, Dr. Robert Clarke for the drawing on page 4, and my wife Ruth for her assistance in the selection of poems, her careful reading of the manuscript, and her photo of the author engaged in "research" on brook trout. All photos not otherwise credited are from my personal collection.


1. THE BOOKE OF PHYLLYP SPARROWE, John Skelton, 1460?-1529

2. ESSAY ON MAN, Alexander Pope, 1688-1744

3. TO A MOUSE, Robert Burns, 1759-1796

4. SNOW-BOUND, John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892

5. SUMMER, Christina Rossetti, I830-1894

6. THE PASTURE, Robert Frost, 1875-1963

7. IN TALL GRASS, Carl Sandburg, 1878-1971

8. THE BARREL-ORGAN, Alfred Noyes, 1880-1958

9. I AM NOT POOR, H. H. Siegele, 1863

10. UNGATHERED GRAPES, Robert P. Tristram Coffin, 1892-1955

11. TO AN ORCHARD NEAR LONDON, Jan Struther, 1901-1953

12. THE FISH, Elizabeth Bishop, 1911

13. LOVE NOTE II: FLAGS, Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917

14. LOBSTERS, Howard Nemerov, 1920-

15. REDISCOVERY, George Awoonor Williams, 1935-

16. TWO LYRICS, Richard Thomas, 1951-

Nature Poetry III

by John Breukelman, Professor Emeritus of Biology

You readers of The Kansas School Naturalist have responded so favorably to the two numbers of nature poetry (Vol. 20, No. 2, and Vol. 22, No. 2) that we are presenting a third in the series. This one is like "Nature Poetry II" except that I am including this time a group of poems written by young American Indians.

As noted in 'both previous issues, some nature poetry is merely descriptive, but more often it uses various forms of figurative speech, indirection, and symbolism, to set the stage for expression of experience that goes beyond mere description. The scope of nature poetry has been variously defined. Some limit it to earth, stars, plants, animals, and the other topics traditionally included in courses in "nature study." On the
other hand, it has been defined as "encompassing all forces at work in the universe." The first is too narrow; we ourselves are a part of nature. The second is too broad; it excludes nothing. In "Nature Poetry
III" I shall be somewhere between these extremes, with the first group of poems interpreted rather
narrowly, followed by others that include ourselves as natural parts of the whole environment.

Those of you who wrote or called about "Nature Poetry II" and expressed preferences mentioned SANTA FE TRAIL more than any other, in fact almost as often as all others together, and Judith Jacobs reprinted it in her 1970 issue of "Around Solbakken." As we did in 1975, we will open this by repeating the favorite from the previous time.


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 there 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.



Since one of the most obvious features of nature in the Temperate Zones is the succession of seasons, let's start with this; because this is the December Naturalist, let's start with winter.


A nervous week
of Kansas weather --
first, a biting wind,
below the zero mark --
then, foggy mist
through freezing rain
to stinging sleet --
then, snow
first wads of puff,
then powder piles,
dunes in the wind --
then morning
clear and crisp --
for all of us a perfect
     Christmas Card.



It's still and clear
     and 20 below;
the sound you hear
    is squeaky snow
under soles
    and under heels
and under frigid
    rolling wheels.



    is often elusive;
    can be abusive;
    is usually obtrusive
and March
    is all-inclusive.

photo of snowflakesSNOWFLAKES

Contemplate a snowflake --
exquisite perfection of design,
delicate, symmetrical,
and fragile

a hundred
or a thousand snowflakes --
exquisite perfection of design,
delicate, symmetrical,
and fragile,
and no two alike

a hundred or a thousand
trillion snowflakes --
(they do come in trillions)
exquisite perfection of design,
delicate, symmetrical,
but not fragile --
they can shut down
a highway
an airport
a whole city.



Snowfall, even spread,
    though but an inch or two,
makes the cardinal more red
    and sky and jay more blue.



    can be uproarious
and April amatorious;
May is meritorious
and June --
    ah, June is glorious!



From cabbage and greens
and carrots and beans
to cherries and pears
I garden on shares --
one third fot the slugs,
the worms, and the bugs,
the next of the thirds
for the rabbits and birds,
which lealles, as your see,
one third for me --
though the garden's small
there's something for all.



Green of trees, green of grass,
green most anywhere you pass,
green of meadows, green of fields,
prophesying summer's yields,
green of buds, possessing powers
to create all-colored flowers
that will sing in rainbow mirth
the April lay of reborn Earth --
no green like April green
can at other times be seen.



The greening of June
    is soft and fast;
how sad to know
    it cannot last.
It will slow down
    by and by
in the harsh summer
    of July,
then August wind
    with scorching heat
will bring it to
    a stop complete.

photo of trees and rootsEVEN THE TREES

the unthinking trees
their seeking roots
the substance of the soil
to match the spread
of foliage



Across the creek on the August hillside
Hangs an Oriental carpet of such hues --

Vines of flaming red,
Bushes of burning brown,
Clearest yellow and flushing orange,
Honest white of birches,
and shades of many greens --

Such a carpet all the wealth of
Oriental Empires could not buy!



Briefly October paints
    Over the summer's greens
In hurried brilliant patterns
    Varicolored scenes,
Then lays the painted canvas,
    Still fresh, on winter's shelf.
Brief life has many colors
    For each to paint -- himself.



Having spent most of my adult life in the teaching of biology, with emphasis on field work, nature study, and science education, I have had numberless opportunities for poetic responses to the various stimuli of nature.


Fluttering leaves,
Four-pointed, black,
Fiuttering upward
into the sky
Out of the hollow
Chimney trunk
Thai marks an
Abandoned brickyard.



Insects living for themselves
    also serve a wider need;
without their pollinating flights
    plants cannot produce their seeds.

There is no independent life;
    upon each life all lives depend;
all creatures operate within
    a circle without start or end.



When would you like to learn about?
    Listen to Earth -- let her teach.
Look at a still wet pebble
    or a piece of wood on the beach.

Pause a while in the forest,
    hear the wind in the trees,
see the flash of the redbird,
    feel the magic of bees.

Step out into the garden
    sense the touch of the earth;
be all the while appraising
    how much this teaching is worth.



For a sight that beats a mountain scene
    Or a view of the rolling ocean,
Look across a mile-wide field
    of Kansas wheat in motion,
Motion spring from the ample earth,
    Motion of the South Wind's giving;
Look across a wheat field first--
    It's green and gold and it's living.



It's just as well no artist captured
    The play of Rembrandt light and shade
With which the western sky this evening
    Bragged how sunsets could be made.
The scene on canvas would provoke
    Only disbelief thereat --
"The artist couldn't have been sober;
    No sunset ever looked like that!"



We human beings, though we consider ourselves " Lords of Creation," should not forget that we are a part of nature, that we live in the same environment as do all other living creatures, and that we have the same basic needs. "Man and nature" is a misleading concept; we should think of "man in nature" or "nature, including man."


The evening sun sends rays of light
    through beveled glass --
The tapered margins give them colors
    as they pass
From air to glass and back again
    to air.
The multicolored patches on
    the eastward wall
With square-edged panes would not
    appear at all
Although the same sunlight would
    still be there.


poem in graphic layout

drawing of bird and manWHEN

Homo sapiens

has managed
by ingenuity
and invention
and specialization
and social engineering
in the name of progress
     to make
the air unbreathable
and tne water undrinkable
and tne food inedible
and the soil untillable
and tile non-renewables
    dwindle to nothing
and population grow
    so much faster than
    Earth's power to
    provide subsistence
and Homo has become
a genus of beggars
            -- then --
who will be the
Sovereign of Creation?
    Passer domesticus?



That scraggly old elm
with its lopped branches
and its lopsided crown
as ugly as a tree can be
photo of elm tree(if indeed a tree
    can be ugly)
should be cut down
and replaced by
an oak, a maple, or
something else
I do not want to cut it down.
Our house is no
Bicentennial Historic Site
we built it
have lived in it a long time
that old elm
is the only living thing
that stood on the lot
all the time we were building.


E=MC 2

Energy is indeed
interchangeable with matter --
in the beginning
energy became mat1er
to create heaven and earth
and the earth was void
and without form
and energy moved
upon the face of the deep
and energy was light
separated from darkness.

Nature is universal mind
of which each human mind
is a part.

The universal intangible
is in all of us --
religion calls it soul.



The triolet, because of its simplicity and its echoing lines, provides an interesting way to draw word pictures. Here are a couple.


Turn unto the sun and say
    "give us light that we may live."
At the start of each new day
turn unto the sun and say
"I shall live in such a way
    as to have some good to give."
Turn unto the sun and say
    "give us light that we may live."



When the birches turn to gold
    winter is not far away;
though today may not be cold.
When the birches turn to gold
cunning squirrels need not be told
    that the skies will soon be gray.
When the birches turn to gold
    winter is not far away.


If you would like to try your hand at writing poetry a little more serious than a rhymed couplet, you might try a triolet. You will note from the above examples that there are only two rhymes, arranged a, b, a, a, a, b, a, b. In BIRCHES the rhyming words are cold, gold, and told, in lines 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7; in lines 2, 6, and 8 the rhyming words are away and gray. Note that the first line is used three times, and the second line twice.

All you need to start a triolet is a rhythmic two-part statement. Suppose you look out the window and see a chickadee flying away from the bird feeder. Instead of saying "it flew away, " say "the chickadee is on the wing." Now you have lines 1and 2 of your triolet:

1. The chickadee

2.      is on the wing.

You're ready to go -- "The chickadee" will be lines 1, 4, and 7 of your triolet, and "is on the wing" will be lines 2 and 8. Your triolet thus far looks like this:

1. The chickadee
2. is on the wing.
3. ________________
4. the chickadee
5. ________________
6.        ________________
7. The chickadee
8.       is on the wing.

So far, so good: next you need lines 3 and 5 to rhyme with " dee" and line 6 to rhyme with "wing." Some "dee" rhymes are bee, flea, free, glee, knee, me, pea, sea, tea, wee, and so on. Some "wing" rhymes are bring, cling, thing, king, ring, sing, and any participle that ends in "ing" such as answering, arguing, and so on.

You might think the chickadee "is fancy free" and since it's a bird you might think of "sing" and come up with something like this:

The chickadee
       is on the wing.
It seems to me
the chickadee
is fancy free
       to fly and sing.
The chickadee
       is on the wing.

Admittedly this will not win you any awards for The Poem of The Year, but if it's fun to write -- right on! As often and as long as you like!


Because of its brevity, this Japanese verse form of 17 syllables arranged 5-7-5, is an ideal form for presenting a quick glimpse, a snapshot as it were, of a natural feature. I have had a lot of fun doing haiku.


The night-time music
blends the rippling of the creek
with wind in the pines.



Half man, half dragon,
one feeds upon the other
half insect, half tree.


photo of butterfly


Dog-tooth violet
adder's tongue or fawn lily --
it is a lily.


photo of dog-tooth violet


Young Hyakinthos
grows from his blood a flower,
fragrant purple gem.


photo of hyacinth


Goddess of rainbows
cloth of gold and sable night,
swords and flags in one.

photo of iris


The prairie rattler
is beautiful and deadly
and not too friendly.


photo of rattlesnake


Hey, there, cardinal
your music is beautiful
but it's 4 A.M.


photo of cardinal


Stubbornly it grows
forming thicket. hedge, and fence,
Multiflora Rose.


photo of roses

Readers have responded more often to haiku than to any other form I have used in the Naturalist, by sending some brief examples of their own writing-haiku, quatrain, cinquain. This one was sent by Mrs. Arthur Tazelaar, of Kalamazoo, Michigan.


Soft, fluffy,
whirling, falling, covering,
making everything beautiful,

These two untitled haiku are from Dean George Rinker of the University of South Dakota Medical School, who like ourselves, spends much vacation time in the Black Hills, one on flowers and the other on a common Black Hills grouse known up there as the fool hen.

How many thousand
flowers dream beneath the snow
of the warmth of June?

Dull, stupid fool hen
blinking, gawking, sitting there
how do you survive?

And these two are from a western Kansas fourth-grade teacher who wishes to remain anonymous.


It awes me to think --
anyone of these children
might be president!


Such questions they have!
What a teacher I would be
could I answer them!


About five years ago, Dr. Eleanor Hoag, formerly of the ESU faculty, introduced me to Grooks, written by the Danish mathematician Piet Hein. These short verses have been described as "small windows opening on a
large world." Here are a few of mine I think may qualify as "small windows."


"A rolling stone gathers no moss"
    but the rolling stone gives no heed
to this honorably aged proverb --
    it wants to gather only speed.



Horse sense is something
    that horses share
that keeps them away
    from the county fair
and having loads
    and loads of fun
betting on how
    the men will run.



Among environmental improvements
    there's one that's not debatable;
make all political advertising
    instantly biodegradable.



When we run out of gas for the dryer
    we'll still get along just fine;
we'll convert to solar energy
    by hanging the clothes on the line.



Pretend that you are
a dog chasing a rabbit,
a calf sucking milk,
a rooster crowing,
a robin with a worm.

How do these effect you?



"Microscopic pathogenic
    entities" are germs;
how hard it is to mention
    common things in simple terms!



The red? bellied woodpecker
    does show some red
but less on its belly
    than it does on its head.



The function of a book
    is idea-linking,
thereby helping the mind
    with the job of thinking.



Those who have enjoyed American Indian poetry have noted two characteristics. First, since the Indians generally live close to nature, much of their poetry is nature-oriented in both origin and development. Second, much of their poetry is inseparably blended with song and dance. Even many of their prayers are poetry expressed in the form of dance. I once asked my Oglala Sioux friend, the late Ben Black Elk, how the traditional Indian view distinguishes poetry, music, song, and dance. He replied that "we really make no serious attempt to distinguish them. Song is dance, dance is song, and both are music. Poetry is the form of all of them. "

The following poems, written by young Indians, are of course modern in the chronological sense. They are however ancient in the philosophical sense. They are in the tradition of love of the land, rich in the imagery
of nature. Their views are as near as we can get to the native America, with little or no European influence. We transplanted Europeans often forget that poetry in America had reached a high level long before it came to our attention. Lyrics were well developed and epics were beginning. Poetry was often fused
with dance and drama, around an altar, a shrine, a sacrificial fire, or other symbolic center of attention.

Let the young native Americans speak for themselves.

The following are reprinted by permission of Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The first was written by a boy of 17, the second by a girl of 14, the third by a boy of 14, and the last by a girl of 17.


O great Eagle, king of the sky,
Lift our spirits and carry them high.
Wing of strength that flows along,
Make way, Eagle, and make us strong.


Time is a million-year old rock
    that once was a mountain.
Time is a tree
    that once was a seed.
Time is a person
    who once was a child.


Tell me, 0 Great Spirit
    why the Mother Earth is
They have put factories where the
    buffalo once stood,
And where the wild ponies played
And where the sage once grew.


I am your winged
Feathered creature.
i have but two legs.
I'm free to fly as I wish,
Free to land as I want
Remember, Lord,
My brain is small;
Do not release my soul
From your grasp
I am but a small bird.

The following are reprinted by permission from Photographs and Poems by Sioux Children, published by the Tipi Shop, Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1971. The poems and accompanying photographs were done by children in the Porcupine Day School, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, and are from an exhibition organized by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the Department of the Interior.

photo by Leslie Bush
Photograph by Leslie Bush
Grade 7, age 13
photo by James White Thunder

Photograph by James White Thunder
Grade 8, age 14

photo by Harvey Iron BoyPhotograph by Harvey Iron Boy
Grade 8, age 15

photo by Leslie BushPhotograph by Leslie Bush
Grade 7, age 13

photo by Richard PetersPhotograph by Richard Peters
Grade 8, age 15

Tracks on the snow
    horse tracks,
    cow tracks,
    cat's, man's
    a horse pulling
    a rope in
    the snow,
where do they go?

Dennis White Thunder
Grade 6, age 12

Cat, sitting by a rock
alone and hungry,
thinking how it would
be to be a human.
He thinks he would be happy
but he wouldn't.

Doris Cottier
Grade 7, age 13

"Get off, you are holding me,"
said the water to the ice.
The ice is frozen so the water
can't move, but the fish was
moving slowly.

Marvin Left Hand
Grade 5, age 10

A tree is a tree
until you and the axe
cut it down to
a sad ending.

Donroy Brewer
Grade 7, age 13

A road has no end
and neller knows where or
When to stop.
The road comes and goes
Through streams, hills, and cities.
A road is where you can
Find happiness and again
You can find sadness.

Marlene Locke
Grade 8, age 14

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