Nature, in the tangible sense of landscape—sky, rivers, oceans, land, plants, and animals—is a golden thread running through nearly all the themes of this survey, for mankind's relationship with the natural world affects almost every other relationship. What is our place in the universe, and what are our responsibilities, especially with regard to the animal kingdom? How does nature affect us personally? To what extent are our moods and thoughts—our very beings—influenced by the seasons, by weather, by the beauty of our surroundings? Why is the culture and religion of northern Europe, where the climate is severe and the land rugged and deeply forested, so different from the culture and religion of southern Europe, where the sun shines year round and the landscape encompasses a brilliantly blue sea, terraces of grapes, and sun-baked fields of olives and tomatoes? These questions have vexed all nationalities and are at the heart of religious belief also, appearing in the creation stories that account for the origins of nature and man.
British poetry offers a particularly rich appreciation of landscape because the countryside of Britain is both varied and beautiful, lush with the heavily scented greenery that a temperate climate provides. It is also a countryside that has been settled and cultivated since literature began, unlike North America, where the literature of the early settlers was deeply concerned with the taming of the wilderness. Although there are still remote and wild areas in northern Scotland and Wales, much of the British landscape has for centuries been composed of peaceful, orderly rivers and canals, neat fields, and flower-laden hedgerows. It was not until travel abroad became more commonplace in the eighteenth century that poetry about untamed nature—treacherous mountains, vast waterfalls, and fastflowing rivers—came to be written. And although earlier poets such as Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and William Shakespeare wrote evocative