Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

The Poet as Botanist

Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

The Poet as Botanist

Article excerpt

The Poet as Botanist. By M. M. MAHOOD. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2008. x + 269 pp. £50.

M. M. Mahood, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the University of Kent, completed an Open University degree course in biology in retirement. In this study she combines her interests in plants and poetry.

After an introductory chapter she considers plants in the work of Erasmus Darwin, George Crabbe, John Clare, D.H. Lawrence and, perhaps surpri singly given her book's title, John Ruskin. A final chapter provides a brisk but authoritative survey of plants in the work of later, twentiethcentury, poets.

Mahood's grasp of the history of botany and botany as a whole is admirable; few professional botanists, working as they do in ever more speciali sed- fields, could match her overview of their subject. She bravely attempts to identify the plants which poets mention and in most, if not all, cases, arrives at satisfactory conclusions.

William Wordsworth dominates much of the opening chapter. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that the second chapter, the first of Mahood's detailed studies, deals with Erasmus Darwin, who attempted to produce a poetical version of Linnaeus's classification of plants. Today most people find the result excruciating and one suspects that if it were not for his more eminent grandson, Charles, his verses would be decently forgotten. Possibly readers whose main interest is poetry will appreciate this chapter more than the present reviewer, whose primary interest is botany. …

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