Posts Tagged ‘L.H. Sigourney’

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. How L H Sigourney Defines Home

L H Sigourney begins the text “Fallen Forests” by establishing the wilderness, and in particular trees, as symbols for the home.  Nature is characterized as a “sweet, gentle nurse / Who loveth us, and spreads a sheltering couch / When our brief task is o’er” (118), while human-constructed homes are defined as “stately mansions” that are lessened by how they stand “Unblessed by trees” (118).  The former definition of nature makes reference to nature as a sort of “final home” for all people as our bodies are lowered into the grave, a fact she elaborates on when she describes how dying elephants will “[move] slowly to seek the shadow of lofty trees” (120).  In addition, the characterization of nature as a “gentle nurse” implies a comparison to nature as the maternal.  Thus, for Sigourney, nature marks both the place from which all living creatures come, and the place where all living creatures return.  Sigourney’s definition of “home” becomes one of a place where people can only escape from briefly, and it is inevitable that they will return to it, and her argument becomes one against forsaking nature and embracing it as a great maternal essence.

This description contrasts with how she describes man-made structures later in the text.  Although she mentions private residences and estates she witnesses during her travels, there are two instances in the text where she goes into great detail about human structures, and neither instance is a traditional home.  First, she describes the State prison, which is characterized by how its inmates are a “mass of human misery” (124) which “had once a mother to whom their infancy was dear; who would have shuddered with agony, had the vision of a felon’s cell risen up between her and the cradle” (125).  Given how nature has been previously characterized as maternal, this passage indicates Sigourney’s view that artificial structures are not true homes, and serve only to separate one from the true mother figure, which is nature.  The second major description is that of the State Lunatic Asylum, which although describes as “sufficient for the comfortable and even luxurious accommodation of several hundred patients” (128), is also described as housing people who are afflicted by “one of the saddest forms of suffering humanity” (128-129).  It is therefore striking that Sigourney chooses to describe two places that house incredibly unhappy people.  Furthermore, she ends her text by depicting her travels by saying, “the chief end of her excursions abroad, might be to enjoy home better” (132).  Although this does not mention nature, her previous characterizations cause this passage to have deeper meaning: nature is home, and thus her “excursions” become a metaphor for life.  The travails of life serve to bring one closer to nature as one’s home, and this is inevitable as nature is the place where, according to Sigourney, everyone will one day return.

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

Home in Nature

 

Sigourney seems to define home as any place with trees. Not in a simple tree hugger way, but in a spiritual sense. She views trees as religious deities and in the forest, amongst them is where she feels the most at home. She goes as far as to criticize the wealthy people’s homes, where they clear the entire property of all trees saying, “…for his hand hath gotten wealth. He builds a stately mansion, but it stands unblessed by trees,” (pg 118). This idea of nature as home has not been presented very often, because most of the writers we have read are more concerned with what resources they can squeeze out of nature than what its intrinsic value is. They are often times city dwellers or non-Americans and are not at home in nature. While these writers don’t see nature as their home, they definitely place the Indians home in nature. Authors such as Crevecoeur, Lewis and Clark, Irving and several others talk about the natives and put them, stereotypically, at one with nature, part of it, not really human. Sigourney does not mention natives, at all. But from what she wrote, I think she would not have categorized them in the way other authors have. He reverence for nature as a whole lends me to believe she would have understood them as people. Unlike some of the other authors we have read, she seems to like nature more than people. She does not like the people that come in and cut down the trees, even for shelter. Sigourney’s environmental message is blatantly clear, she is for the preservation of trees. She seems little concerned with other parts of nature and views trees as the most important part of nature. She has a religious reverence for the trees and she uses this a basis and evidence for her environmental message of preserving trees.

L.H. Sigourney: An Ecofeminist Perspective

In L.H. Sigourney’s poem “Fallen Forests,” I found many elements that aligned with the ideals of the ecofeminist perspectives we read in the Judith Plant essays for this week. In her essays, Plant states: “Life struggles in nature… become feminist issues within the ecofeminist perspective. Once we understand the historical connections between women and nature and their subsequent oppression, we cannot help but take a stand on the war against nature” (Plant, 80). I found that quote to encompass a lot of what Sigourney was trying to argue within “Fallen Forests.”

For example, line one of Sigourney’s poem states: “Man’s warfare on the trees is terrible” (Sigourney, 117). This statement could not be more blatant or upfront; she goes on to describe how the tree-cutting practices of the time are truly ruining nature, and if Americans are not more careful, the damage will be irreparable. Although when she says “man,” this could be taken to mean both males and females, throughout the poem there are images conjured of lumber jacks and laborers working hard to wreck the natural environment. These images, of course, correspond to the traditional ideals of men “out in the fields” with women staying in the home. This idea directly intertwines itself with Plant’s statement above. In this way, Sigourney’s poem not only calls out the American practice of tree-cutting (and its subsequent harms to the environment) but makes a statement against the male dominated world she, as a woman, lives in.

Sigourney does not shy away from making these remarks bold and direct; she even relies on some emotional appeals to impress upon her readers how dire this situation is. On page 118, Sigourney states: “neither he, nor… his children’s children, shall behold what he hath swept away” (Sigourney, 118). This, coupled with the last line of the poem that describes the irrevocability of man’s actions, leaves a clear statement in the reader’s mind. If nothing changes, nature will be damaged for all time. The true cleverness of Sigourney’s statement, though, lies in the fact that she is able to effortlessly tie in a complementary argument- advocating for women’s rights, as well as nature’s.

 

Plant, Judith. Home! A Bioregional Reader.Ch./Art: REvaluing Home: Feminism and Bioregionalism; Searching for Common Ground:
Evofeminism and Bioregionalism p. 21-23, 79-82. pub. New Society Publishers 1990

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

 

Group 1’s Third Blog Post

Lydia Sigourney. Library of Congress descripti...

L.H. Sigourney; Image via Wikipedia

For this blog response, you have a few different writing options. Choose only ONE of these topics to write your response. Be sure to make it clear which question you chose in the subject line of your post. Remember, this blog response is for Group 1 only!

  1. Write an ecocritical analysis of L.H. Sigourney’s poem “Fallen Forests.” What is the argument of this poem?  Besides applying some of the ecocritical interpretative techniques you’ve learned in this course in answering this question, be sure to also consider the specific elements of poetry as a form, like speaker and listener, imagery, patterns of sound, form, meter, lineation, etc. Some questions to consider regarding these elements of poetry include: Who is the speaker, where is s/he, and what is the speaker’s state of mind? Does the poem have an implied listener and to what effect? What images are most striking in this poem? Do they seem conventional, familiar, surprising, experimental? Why?What patterns of sound to you find in this poem and what effect do they give? How are the poem’s lines structured?
  2. Both Susan Fenimore Cooper’s Rural Hours And L.H. Sigourney’s Scenes in My Native Land are particularly interested in the ecology of home, focusing on their local environments rather than uncharted wilderness. How do either (or both) of these writers define home, and how is nature valued within this context? If you are writing about both Cooper and Sigourney, do they have similar or different views of nature and/or the New England environment? To what extent does Coopers’/Sigourney’s valuation of nature and/or home agree with/diverge from other authors we’ve read this semester? Do these texts have a clear environmental message, and if so, what is it?
  3. Choose one quote from the Judith Plant essays that you find interesting, confusing, problematic, surprising, or otherwise compelling. In your response, work closely with the quote. Why did it stand out to you? If you chose a quote that you found confusing, use the response to work through your confusion. If you found it interesting, compelling, or problematic, explain why. If you choose this option, choose a long quote (a few sentences). Type your quote at the top of your post, then follow with your 300-word response (the quote is NOT considered part of the minimum word count). Be sure to give the page number for your quote in parentheses. You are not required to bring in additional quotes for the response if you choose this topic.

Remember, your posts should follow these requirements and guidelines:

  • Posts must be at least 300 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quote from the text. If you are writing about more than one text, then you’ll need at least one quote from each as support.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt question above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.
  • Please note that you do not need to answer every “thinking question” I have posted (the questions after the bold directive). These are just options, so you could focus on one or a few. Avoid writing a response that looks like a Q & A or laundry list of answers to these smaller questions; make sure your response flows smoothly and has unity.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text.
  • Use specific moments from the text(s) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotes.
  • Don’t forget to tag your posts! Before adding a new tag, check the “choose from the most used tabs” menu to make sure it is not already listed.

Group 1, your blog response is due by class time on Tuesday, October 4.

Group 2, blog comments are due by class time on Thursday, October 6.