“Poe(trees) of Place: Forest Poetics from Lithuania to Tasmania”

Claire Jansen

Abstract


Analysing the poetic ecology of the forest as a cultural landscape offers insight into ecocritical consciousness. This article compares Lithuanian national and Tasmanian colonial poetics, and examines post-colonial poetry linked to the Tasmanian conservation movement. Starting in nineteenth century Lithuania under Russian rule, this article examines The Forest of Anykščiai by Antanas Baranauskas in English translation. The poem, a national anthem to a cleared forest, reconstructs an entire ecosystem and imbues it with Lithuanian mythology. In this way, the poem re-inscribes Lithuanian forests as nationally significant, and inextricably linked to culture, sense of place and the struggle against Russian colonisation and imperialism. Nature becomes a nationally unifying symbol and forests in particular are represented as cultural landscapes. In far away Tasmania, the island state of Australia, a violent colonial past has also been unfolded in the setting of extensive forests. In nineteenth century Tasmania, however, the forest poetics were written by members of the colonising power, people who saw forests as hostile, dangerous places, and whose political agenda included the social legitimisation of the invasion of inhabited lands. Therefore, in many examples of Tasmanian colonial poetry, the representation of Nature as silent and empty of life deletes the ecological presence of forest. The silencing of the forest neatly accompanied the denial of any indigenous history of the land. This has had the effect of enacting the colonial doctrine of terra nullius and participating in a literature of indigenous “extinction.” More recently, a post-colonial re-awakening of the sound and breath of organic forest ecologies has occurred in poetry associated with the Tasmanian conservation movement. There has also been a deliberate re-inscription of indigenous history in post-colonial poetics that includes human interaction with Nature as part of an environmentally sustainable vision for the future.

Keywords


Comparative literature; 19th-century Lithuania; 20th-century Tasmania; Romanticism; postcolonialism; forest poetics; conservation

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549