RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now, we'll take a flight of fancy. Imagine you had to save the planet from environmental ruin, and you had only one tool at your disposal: poetry. Not the easiest challenge in the world, but that's the idea behind the new book "Can Poetry Save the Earth?" It's by John Felstiner, an English professor at Stanford. He calls the book a field guide to nature poems, and he's filled it with writers like Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, and William Carlos Williams.
Mr. JOHN FELSTINER (Author): What Williams once said in a beautiful love poem to his wife is this: It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
MONTAGNE: There are hundreds of nature poems in Felstiner's book, and here is the challenge we gave him. Choose one, one poem that might - to borrow his words - save the Earth if enough people heard it. We thought he might say impossible, it's like having to choose a favorite child. But he said actually, it is surprisingly simple. And in some ways, so is the poem he chose.
Mr. FELSTINER: This is a poem by William Stafford, "The Well Rising."
The well rising without sound, the spring on a hillside, the plowshare brimming through deep ground everywhere in the field. The sharp swallows and their swerve flaring and hesitating, hunting for the final curve coming closer and closer. The swallow heart from wing beat to wing beat counseling decision, decision: thunderous examples. I place my feet with care in such a world.
MONTAGNE: One of the things John Felstiner says he likes about this poem by William Stafford is that it is modest.
Mr. FELSTINER: There's almost nothing in this poem which is telling us you must do this, you must do that, because we're here in the most urgent crisis of our time. So that at the end, the modesty of his voice - I place my feet with care in such a world - seems to me truly modest just speaking for himself, but speaking as the human being that we could be ourselves.
MONTAGNE: John Felstiner, talking here about "The Well Rising," one of the poems included in his new book, "Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide To Nature Poems." To read two of his other favorites or suggest your favorite poems for our fragile planet, go to npr.org.
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