Poetry About the Environment

April 10, 2017 Updated: April 10, 2017

There is still serious debate over the existence of man-made climate change and the negative effects of genetically modified crops. But no one can reasonably deny that the air is worse in cities than in the countryside; the reason for the high incidence of asthma in urban areas is not a mystery. The decline in the quality of water is also easily perceived—science is not needed to make these observations.

Poetry, at its best, tries to tackle such pressing issues. By tackle, I do not mean come up with some formula for clean energy, but rather raise awareness about the problem and inspire those who may come up with such a formula, or encourage those who have the means to contribute to protection of the environment.  

We look first at one of the earliest environmentalist poems, in which William Blake (1757–1827) contemplates whether Jesus ever visited England. Blake then bemoans the smoggy “clouded hills” and “Satanic Mills” of England during the Industrial Revolution. He asks for celestial weapons that will help him metaphorically destroy such industrialization and the greed that spurred it on.

After that, we have a poem by accredited classical poet Dusty Grein. He uses the pantoum form, which means that two lines from each four-line stanza repeat in the next four-line stanza. There is a haunting echo that one can feel when reading it aloud, and the end result is that the first line and the last line are the same. Then, author Pat Brisson of New Jersey offers a snappy but stinging poem on plastic water bottles.

The last two poems, one by Colorado clinical psychologist John W. Steele and the other by short story writer and poet Cheryl Corey, deal with the deep conundrum that the environmental problem presents. Indirectly, these two poems dig deeper for an answer in ways that are not obvious.

An engraving of an industrial scene by Henry Gastineau and Samuel Lacey. (public domain)
An engraving of an industrial scene by Henry Gastineau and Samuel Lacey. (public domain)

And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times

By William Blake  

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land

"Manchester from Kersal Moor" by William Wyld. (public domain)
“Manchester from Kersal Moor” by William Wyld. (public domain)

The Price

A Pantoum in Iambic Pentameter

By Dusty Grein

The sea and sky, once beautiful and clean,
They’ve paid the price for man’s hubris and greed.
The jungle canopies were brilliant green
as nature shared her bounty, fruit and seed;

They’ve paid the price for man’s hubris and greed.
Depleting resources with wanton haste,
as nature shared her bounty, fruit and seed
until our arrogance laid poisonous waste.

Depleting resources with wanton haste,
We’ve turned a blind eye to our ruinous ways
until our arrogance laid poisonous waste.
Now smog and filth have painted it all gray.

We’ve turned a blind eye to our ruinous ways;
The jungle canopies were brilliant green—
Now smog and filth have painted it all gray;
the sea and sky, once beautiful and clean.


Just Say No to Plastic Water Bottles

By Pat Brisson

Want a drink?
There’s the sink:
grab a bottle, fill it up;
get a glass or use a cup.
Nix the plastic; try the tap.
Avoid the water-buying trap.

Save resources; money, too
(good for earth and good for you).
Bottled water? Before you drink
here’s a fact to make you think:
bottles with a single use
qualify as earth abuse.


The World Is Still Too Much

By Cheryl Corey

Too much, and much too much, it still goes on:
The men and women who covet wealth and bling,
And acquisition of each material thing,
Yet search for some elusive paradigm

Of Self as one with Nature. Rising seas
And tempest winds instill a mounting fear
That Doomsday, Armageddon, The End draw near,
And quick to Nature’s wrath they must appease.

Together, they will save the Earth, demand
That we consume fewer fossil fuels,
And lobby for strict environmental rules;
See to it that everyone throughout the land

Pays homage to the new religion—Green;
But first, they need to check their iPhone screen.


By John W. Steele

Glommed to the screen of your smartphone,
not noticing you’re next in line—
so many choices of ring-tone,
screen-savers, apps, places to dine.

The World Wide Web interconnects
us all. That’s obvious, you think.
But how about how it affects
a child: the cyanide and zinc,

along with mercury and lead?
The unintended choice you made:
my child, who earns her daily bread
recycling, underpaid, betrayed.

Retired phones are shipped here: Gwayu,
China, and stripped of precious metals.
Recyclers stir a toxic brew
and heat it up in iron kettles.

It’s not the kind of thing you want
to look at, when you buy a smartphone;
so turn it on, be nonchalant,
be sure to choose the proper ring-tone.

Evan Mantyk is president of the Society of Classical Poets (ClassicalPoets.org). He teaches literature and history in upstate New York. You may send your comments, feedback, and, of course, poetry to Submissions@ClassicalPoets.org