The poet Elizabeth Bishop and the naturalist Aldo Leopold share a keen power of
observation, a beautifully detailed manner of writing, a love for the beauty of nature, and an interest in how people interact with the natural world. Like Leopold, Bishop examines human interactions with nature on both the personal and the ecological level. On the individual level, a hunter’s contact with the animal he or she is hunting changes his or her attitude toward nature in both Bishop’s poem “The Fish” and Leopold’s essay “Thinking Like a Mountain.” On the larger level, both Bishop in her poem “The Mountain” and Leopold throughout the Sand County Almanac envision the role of human beings in relation to the rest of the natural world as one of exploration and interpretation through science and art.
In both Bishop’s “The Fish” and Leopold’s “Thinking Like a Mountain,” the
person’s contact with a wild animal comes about through hunting. In theory, hunting is a
sport, “a challenge of fang against bullet” (Leopold 129), in which the animal has a fair
chance of escaping. In reality, however, there is no real challenge for the hunter in either
case. Leopold and his companions, “pumping lead into the pack” (130), kill the wolf not
by skill but by the sheer number of bullets, while Bishop’s speaker testifies, “He didn’t
fight. / He hadn’t fought at all” (5-6). Thus, both call into question whether their hunting
is actually a sport.
Both Leopold and Bishop’s speaker are initially unaware of the true value of the
creatures they hunt. Leopold writes, “I thought that because fewer wolves meant more
deer, that no wolves would mean hunter’s paradise” (130). Bish...
... middle of paper ...
... of human beings in nature is to explore, perceive, understand, and give a
voice to the world around them through science and art. They suggest this both through
what they say in their writing and by the very act of writing, which is an act of perception
and interpretation of nature. However, their interpretations of the mountain’s message
beg the question of whether they are interpreting it correctly, or whether they are simply
attributing their own views to landforms. Perhaps their works are best seen as an
invitation to their readers to explore the natural world for themselves and create their own
interpretations. Contact with wild creatures might change our attitudes too!
Bishop, Elizabeth. The Complete Poems, 1927-1979. New York: Farrar, Straus and
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949.
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