10 DECEMBER 1937, Page 17

Poets as Naturalists

An intense love of the country, such as Wordsworth's- he and Coleridge delighted in Somerset not less than in West- morland—does not necessarily involve any particular know- ledge of natural history. Very few of the poets have been good naturalists. Crabbe is probably the best botanist, and he was distinctly learned. Lord de Tabley knew his Cheshire botany— especially the brambles and bushes—even better than Crabbe knew his Suffolk. Tennyson took immense pains. He regretted late in life that the South Kensington cases of birds were not set up in his youth. What little polished phrases (such as his "livelier iris ") he would have cut if he could have put his shortsighted eyes against those eloquent glass cases ! But even Tennyson was in no sense an efficient naturalist as such, though he observed little things, such as the black ashbuds in the front of March, with the insight of affection. Even in that phrase (made famous by Mrs. Gaskell's emphasis in Cranford) half the line comes from Shakespeare. A modern critic of Tennyson has said severely that he gave up Parnassus for the Gradus ad Parnassum ; and perhaps a technical know- ledge of detail is not unlikely to be an interference to such a higher interpretation of nature as Wordsworth gives us. The American poet Lowell used his considerable knowledge of plants and animals with much poetic liveliness.