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This review is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

POETRY AFTER DARWIN JOHN BARNIE, No Hiding Place - Essays on the New Nature and Poetry (University of Wales Press) £9.95

For John Barnie nature has changed. After Darwin there is no space left in which to be, with any authenticity, a Wordsworthian nature-mystic. The poets he prizes here, pre-eminently A.R. Ammons, Robinson Jeffers, R.S. Thomas, and the Swedish writer Harry Martinson, are those who have faced up to the realities of this post-Darwinian world. The Ted Hughes of Crow is in this context also given recognition as having come 'as close as possible to wrenching us from our habitual human-centred way of looking'; the later Ted Hughes is seen as relapsing into a sort of nature-mysticism incompatible with the truths of science.

Here we might already take pause. What option do we have as human beings but to see the world in a human-centred way? What is it about nature that has changed since Darwin? It is first of all necessary to remember that there is nothing natural but, rather, everything artificial about our concept of nature. When Thoreau went on his retreat to Walden Pond he retained, as Barnie reminds us, civilisation as the vantage-point which made the retreat already possible. Nature in the raw (not very raw at Walden Point) is prized to the degree that there is something opposed to it that is not nature. There is, in effect, an element of sentimentality intrinsic to the Romantic stance given that this was a period in which nature had already, to a large degree, been tamed - unlike, for example, the Anglo-Saxon period when it ...


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