Blog Post #1: Landscape

One aspect of the role of landscape in this week’s readings that interested me was the contrast between landscape in the prose and landscape in the poetry.   There are some exceptions, of course, but it seems to me that the landscape in the prose tended to use it as a backdrop, as a way of establishing setting or of advancing the plot, whereas in the poetry the landscape often formed the core of the work.

In Sitka by Louis L’Amour, Mount Edgecumbe, which anyone who’s been to the area knows is a dominant feature of the landscape, is simply presented as a means to establish that our protagonists are well-traveled: “‘It is a beautiful place. I who have suffered here, I say it.’ He gestured toward Mount Edgecumbe. ‘It is as lovely as Fujiyama.'”

Sitka, with Mt. Edgecumbe in the background

In the excerpt from The Killing by Rex Beach, the landscape is merely a way of delineating the borders of the settlement, the location where the action takes place: “A mile distant lay the city, stretched like a white ribbon between the gold of the ocean sand and the dun of the moss-covered tundra. It was like no other…” The landscape is also where the money comes from: “‘That’s Anvil Creek up yonder,”…he indicated a gap in the buttress of mountains rolling back from the coast. “It’s the greatest creek in the world. You’ll see gold by the mule-load, and hillocks of nuggets…these hills are seamed with quarts. The bed-rock of that creek is yellow.”

Abandoned mining dredge in Coal Creek, near Circle, AK

In contrast, in the poem Do You Fear the Wind by Hamlin Garland, there is an actual relationship with the landscape. “Do you fear the force of the wind,/The slash of the rain?/Go face them and fight them,/Be savage again./Go hungry and cold like the wolf./Go wade like the crane:/…You’ll grow ragged and weary and swarthy/But you’ll walk like a man.” The interaction with the natural world, and the result thereof, is at the heart of the piece.

Ice fog on the Tanana River

Similarly, in Looking Back I Remember by Joanne Townsend, the narrator gradually, despite resistance, integrates with the landscape: “How afraid I was, our first year here,/to walk on the frozen lake. I watched/the fishholes being cut, the snowmachines/whiz across, but couldn’t trust./…It snowed in May./Before the mirror I examined white/sprouts in my hair and pulled them,/root by stubborn root.”

Skiers by Mendenhall Glacier

I wonder whether this contrast is primarily due to the differing conventions of different genres, or perhaps poets tend to look at the world differently than novelists?


(All the quotations here come from our textbook; all the photos are my own.)

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