Ecocritical analysis of L.H. Sigourney’s poem “Fallen Forests.”

The most striking feature of the poem is the morbid and nearly apocalyptic language, tying into a classical pastoral image which idealizes harmonious nature. At the same time, it is hard not to see this work as overtly romanticizing the environment. It is clear that Sigourney is writing from a similar position as a number of the other writers we have read: Catlin, Emerson… etc. which is not of someone who lives in the raw nature but one who “roam(s) O’er Nature’s bosom” with “pious care” (Sigourney 118, 119). What is interesting is that her critique of man as despoiler of nature seems to be indiscriminate of intention. Instead of admonishing the hunter and praising the farmer, as we have seen in other works, she suggests that any destruction of nature is unacceptable—even just for the construction of shelter. The implication is that there should be moral considerability for the trees, they should be respected as having implicit value. This ties into the Deep Ecological perspective, which extends moral considerability to non-human entities.

Her reasoning for this seemingly ecocentric evaluation of nature seems to separate into two interconnected arguments. First, that effecting the natural environment has large spreading effects on the surrounding flora/fauna, which similarly are deserving of moral considerability, as well as on Man himself. This can be seen in her analysis of the man who builds a mansion to accommodate the growth of his family—his prosperity: “his hand hath gotten wealthy” (118). She states that, because during the process of expansion he had cut down all of his trees, “now the burning noon makes his spirit faint”. This can be seen as a critique on progress of human societies, and how it has lasting near-irreparable consequences for the environment and the societies themselves. In this way, this poem can read as a forewarning, attempting to insight a pious appreciation of nature before the apocalyptic prophecy comes true. This ties into her second argument.

“He entereth boldly to the solemn groves on whose green altar-tops… the winged birds have poured their incense” (Sigourney 117). This quote imagines nature as a church or place of worship, as is apparent in much of the rest of the poem, where its “beauty bends to God.” Comparing this to the biblical quote which suggests Man’s dominion over nature, Sigourney appears to be taking the role of the steward. Thus conservation and preservation of nature is the duty of the pious. This can be seen in the last stanza of the poem where the speaker prays to god (“Oh Father!”) to “grant us grace in all life toils”: to understand that nature is sacred, and that by exploiting it we are harming God’s creations—including man (119).

Sigourney, L.H. Scenes in My Native Land. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 117-132. pub. James Munroe and Company 1845

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Similar to your analysis, I thought it was interesting how equally Sigourney viewed the destruction of nature, even if the destruction was necessary for human life such as building a shelter. Perhaps this can be explained by the value she places on nature, it is not simply a habitat for humans but almost a human–like creation itself with feelings and needs. Sigourney even attributes very human like qualities to nature, mentioning “limbs” and “arms” which figuratively puts nature on the same level as man (Sigourney 118). Plant states that there “is no hierarchy in nature” and perhaps Sigourney would agree with this statement and add that even humans have no higher place in the environment than the trees, grass, and water that occupies space with them (Plant 79).

  2. The thing I found most perplexing about Sigourney was her absolute idolizing of the trees. I completely understand her admiration for nature but I found her to be overly interested in the well-being of the trees. Her poem communicated the extreme greed by man who “builds a stately mansion, but it stands/ Unblessed by trees.” (Sigourney, 118). However, her argument seems to branch even beyond the usual pleas for humans to curb their consumption. After reading the poem I almost felt as if Sigourney placed the well-being of trees above the needs of humans. Her solution to saving the trees seemed to have no balance between man and nature. Not building a “stately mansion” is a valid desire, but Sigourney even calls man building a “rude hut” as “Man’s warfare on the trees” (Sigourney, 117). Her argument is too extreme in saying that in order to save the trees we would have to essentially destroy humans way of life as we know it.

  3. I agree with your point, cturner, in that she is a little too extreme in her defense of the trees. Later on in her essay, she says “The roof of the smallest log hug, or shanty, seems the signal of extinction to the most sacred and solemn groves” (119). I found her poem such an incredible contrast with the rest of her essay – she ventured into some extreme viewpoints of glorifying nature, but then she goes off into her rather mundane experience of her life, much like Cooper’s writings. She, like Cooper, is an observer. At the end of her essay, she realizes that she hates to travel only because it is uncomfortable. She wants to look at the world through the aquarium-glass, but because of discomfort she’ll stay home… hardly the “shift in morality” that bioregionalism calls for.

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