Ornithological Passions of American Poet Celia Thaxter
Keywords:birds, ecology, poetry, Audubon, Thaxter
American poet Celia Leighton Thaxter (1835 – 1894) was shaped by both environmental beauty and destruction she witnessed in her New England community. As a woman who spent much of her life on a small wind-swept island, she was educated by seasons and migrations that later informed her work. A brief education among Boston’s literary elite launched her creative career, where she focused on her local ecology. At that time, over-hunting and newly fashionable plumed hats and accessories had created a serious possibility of avian decimation. By creating awareness of humans’ culpability for birds’ endangerment, Thaxter’s work evoked public sympathy and contributed to social and political change.
This essay applies ecofeminist and cultural analyses to Thaxter’s work written as part of the 19th century bird defense movement, by examining the emotional rhetoric employed and activism implied in her poems and prose about birds, specifically: “The Kittiwakes,” “The Wounded Curlew,” and “The Great Blue Heron: A Warning.” Little attention has been paid to Thaxter’s didactic poems which use birds as subjects to instruct children and adults about the fragility of birdlife and to warn of humans’ destructive behaviors. These works illustrate Thaxter’s ecological sensibility and her use of emotion and reason to communicate an ecological message. Her poetry and prose about birdlife fortified the budding Audubon Society and contributed to the birth of the environmental movement. We can learn from such poetic activism, from attention to nature turned commodity, and the dangers of depleting finite resources. In our global environmental crisis, we recognize the interwoven relationships between birds and humans. Perhaps poems can help stymie our current ecological trajectory.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
a) Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal (CC BY-NC for articles and CC BY-NC-ND for creative work, unless author requests otherwise.
b) Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
c) Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).