Green poems selected by Dr Oliver Tearle
Green is the colour of spring, of leaves on the trees and grass in the rain. So it’s no surprise, given the ubiquity of the colour green in the world of nature, that poets down the ages have written about this most evocative of colours. Here are ten of the very best poems about the colour green.
Andrew Marvell, ‘The Garden’.
No white nor red was ever seen
So am’rous as this lovely green.
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress’ name;
Little, alas, they know or heed
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheres’e’er your barks I wound,
No name shall but your own be found …
This is one of Andrew Marvell’s most famous poems, and takes the form of a meditation in a garden; this setting has led critics to interpret the poem as a response to the original biblical garden, Eden, while other commentators have understood the poem as a meditation about sex, political ambition, and various other themes. Its celebrated lines about ‘Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade’ are especially memorable and evocative, and earn this poem its place at the head of this list of great green poems.
William Blake, ‘The Ecchoing Green’.
The sky-lark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around,
To the bells’ cheerful sound.
While our sports shall be seen
On the Ecchoing Green.
This poem begins joyously, but ends less so, aware as Blake was of how all joys must fade and all things must pass and all sports must come to an end.
Robert Burns, ‘Now Spring Has Clad the Grove in Green’. A joyful spring poem, this, from Scotland’s best-known poet:
Now spring has clad the grove in green,
And strew’d the lea wi’ flowers;
The furrow’d, waving corn is seen
Rejoice in fostering showers:
While ilka thing in nature join
Their sorrows to forego,
O why thus all alone are mine
The weary steps of woe?
The trout in yonder wimpling burn
That glides, a silver dart,
And safe beneath the shady thorn
Defies the angler’s art –
My life was ance that careless stream,
That wanton trout was I;
But love, wi’ unrelenting beam,
Has scorch’d my fountains dry …
William Wordsworth, ‘The Green Linnet’.
In joy of voice and pinion!
Thou, Linnet! in thy green array,
Presiding Spirit here to-day,
Dost lead the revels of the May;
And this is thy dominion.
Many of the greatest green poems are also spring poems, and this poem sees Wordsworth enjoying a warm spring day under a tree, in the company of the green bird, the linnet.
Emily Dickinson, ‘The Color of the Grave is Green’.
The Color of the Grave is Green –
The Outer Grave – I mean –
You would not know it from the Field –
Except it own a Stone …
Beginning with a gravestone seen in a churchyard among the green of the grass that surrounds it, this poem develops into a meditation on death, as so often with Emily Dickinson’s greatest poems.
Amy Lowell, ‘The Green Bowl’. Celebrating a ‘bowl’ or dip made to hold all of the surrounding flowers, ‘The Green Bowl’ is glorious paean to the greenness found everywhere within nature:
This little bowl is like a mossy pool
In a Spring wood, where dogtooth violets grow
Nodding in chequered sunshine of the trees …
D. H. Lawrence, ‘Green’.
The dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between …
Lawrence (1885-1930) was most closely associated with the Georgian poets, whose name marked them out as patriotically British (named after the then king, George V) and as formally conventional (their name was also a nod back to the previous ‘Georgian’ era when Romanticism has arrived on the scene in the 1790s). But a number of great D. H. Lawrence poems also featured in the early anthologies of Imagist poetry during the years of the First World War (the later anthologies being edited by none other than Amy Lowell); ‘Green’ is an especially fine example of Lawrence’s poems from these anthologies. ‘Green’ shows Lawrence’s ability to use colour and imagery to make us see the world in a new way. The line ‘The sky was green wine held up in the sun’ is especially fine.
Dylan Thomas, ‘The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower’. Dylan Thomas’s ‘Fern Hill’ contains one of our favourite descriptions of fire in all poetry (‘green as grass’); but here, we’ve opted for another lush description of the colour green from Thomas’s work. Thomas was extraordinarily precocious, and this poem was published when he was just 19 years old! And indeed, ‘greenness’ as a synonym for youthfulness is here in this poem, which talks of Thomas’s ‘green age’ while also acknowledging that this same force which brings about new life is also the poet’s ‘destroyer’, since nature is also responsible for our own mortality.
Edna St Vincent Millay, ‘Being Young and Green’. Another poem where ‘green’ is synonymous for ‘young’ and even ‘naïve’: Millay (1892-1950) vowed in her youth never to reveal her secrets or open herself up to others. A short poem that has a wistful twist in the final two lines.
Philip Larkin, ‘The Trees’. For Larkin in this poem, about the trees’ ‘yearly trick’ of appearing to remain youthful by growing their green leaves back every spring, is a rare foray into nature poetry for the poet who once observed that ‘deprivation is for me what daffodils are for Wordsworth’. For Larkin, the trees’ ‘greenness is a kind of grief’ because ‘they die, too.’
The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History and The Great War, The Waste Land and the Modernist Long Poem.