Reading Green Literature for a Green World

12 November, 2020 12:00 AM printer

COVID-19, like other natural disasters, taught us to keep nature clean, tidy and livable. In fact, this pandemic is a stark reminder of our imbalanced and dysfunctional relationship with nature. The way we have been cutting down trees and harming wildlife for years is a threat to our own lives. Many people have been trying to spread the word of awareness from their own positions. For example, recently I have been watching a Facebook Live of  “Walking for the Green World”—a concept conceived by a Bangladeshi film director Abu Sayeed—which broadcasts the discussion on environmental issues from interdisciplinary points of view. As a student and now a teacher of literature, I thought to share my views on nature and environment from literary perspective. The term we use to do so is “Ecocriticism”.

Ecocriticism—the study of environment and human—is not as old as other political, literary and aesthetic theories. It is a recent, yet very time-demanding entry in the area of literary and cultural theory. The criticism came into being in the 1990s by the co-founder of ASLE and the first professor of Literature and Environment in the United States. She defined the term in her book, “Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and physical environment”. However, William Rueckert is believed to have coined the term “Ecocriticism” in 1978, which he defines as “the application of ecology and ecological concepts to the study of literature.”

Ecocriticism encourages the readers to read and find out natural issues in a literary text. It looks for the answers of questions like how nature is represented in a poem or novel or play. What role do geography and physical environment play in a text? How do personifications and metaphors of nature shape our ecological consciousness? These are a few of hundreds of questions which are analysed through Ecocriticism. The theory began with physical environment. Now, it also includes other versions of environmentalism like Deep Ecology, Ecofeminism, and Anthropocentrism. Thus, the area is now vast and profound. In a word, Ecocriticism includes all damn things of the entire cosmos.

Before the term was coined, there were many writers of different languages from different parts of world who addressed environmental issues in their literary pieces. The Romantic poets are prominent in this regard. One of the pioneering Romantic poets William Wordsworth beautifully wrote in his poem, “Nature has never betrayed the heart that loved her”. The Romantics were influenced by the terrible effects of the industrial revolution when industries grew abundantly by abandoning and destroying nature. Therefore, nature and its preservation were their dominant themes.

In Indian subcontinent, in fact in Bangladesh, poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Jashim Uddin and Jibanananda Das also composed remarkable poems on nature. Their way of incorporating nature and environment ignited environmental consciousness in the readers. Professor Dr. Fakrul Alam wrote an article titled “Rabindranath Tagore and Eco-consciousness” in which he stated, “Rabindranath is indispensible for our region in general and our two countries in particular because of our eco-consciousness”. There is no point of disagreement. The way Tagore established his educational and rural reconstruction makes the environmentalists appreciate him and his works.

Tagore practically attempted to preserve nature because he had deep fascination for the rural beauty. He mentioned it in many letters, poems and essays. Destroying nature only leads human beings to their ultimate destruction. Tagore wrote a sonnet in 1896 in which he wrote “Give me back the wilderness, and take away the city”. His urge to save the green world is still relevant.

Now, let us talk about the “poet of nature” Jibanananda Das. He wanted to remain in Bengal no matter what. He took ordinary elements of nature and made them extraordinary with his mighty poetic sensibilities. He wrote, “Go wherever you desire, I will remain alongside Bengal’s banks”. Das juxtaposes natural elements in such a way that the nature becomes a harmonious being itself. He shows that all the elements of nature depend on each other. If one falls, the balance will be lost and humans will face the ultimate consequences.

Critics believe that nature and culture are interlinked. The representation, thematisation and treatment of land determine the action of the people living in that particular area. So, the ecological reading of the literary piece not just reveals environmental crisis but also showcases individual and collective cultural tension. This is why, focusing on Bangladeshi text is more important for us now. Since the country is going through massive natural and cultural turmoil, the contemporary poets and writers should be widely read and heard. If we highlight environmental issues in their literary works, we can save the green of our country. The green is not just a colour, it is the idea of life!

Ecocriticism has become more than just a marginal mode of analysis. Nature itself is not merely a passive backdrop of human life. Therefore, in order to save humanity and to preserve the green world, we should start reading and composing more green literature. Extensive reading and research make a powerful impact on people’s psychology and ideology. Thus, reading green literature in inevitable for the green world.


The writer is a Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature, Premier University Chittagong