‘Report To Wordsworth’ by Boey Kim Cheng

 

You should be here, Nature has need of you.

She has been laid waste. Smothered by the smog,

the flowers are mute, and the birds are few

in a sky slowing like a dying clock.

All hopes of Proteus rising from the sea

have sunk; he is entombed in the waste

we dump. Triton’s notes struggle to be free,

his famous horns are choked, his eyes are dazed,

and Neptune lies helpless as beached as a whale,

while insatiate man moves in for the kill.

Poetry and piety  have begun to fail,

As Nature’s mighty heart is lying still.

O see the widening in the sky,

God is labouring to utter his last cry.

Wordsworth: the English nature-poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Proteus: Greek mythology, a sea-god that used shells as wind instruments

Neptune: the Roman god of the sea

Insatiate: never satisfied

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37 thoughts on “‘Report To Wordsworth’ by Boey Kim Cheng

  1. Boey Kim Cheng was born in Singapore in 1965. He now lives
    and works in Australia. This poem has echoes of several sonnets by Wordsworth. As the references are not merely cosmetic, but have real
    relevance to the themes of the poem, they need to be referred to as background.

    Three in particular are referred to in the next section. Students must read these three poems before the class lesson:

    They are the sonnets ‘London 1802’ (http://tinyurl.com/23gqfpw);
    ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’ (http://tinyurl.com/2886c4) and
    most important of all, ‘The world is too much with us . . .’ (http://tinyurl.com/3yoe9em).

    It might be noted that, while Wordsworth used the Petrarchan (or Italian) form of the sonnet (like Keats – see ‘On the Grasshopper and the Cricket’), Boey prefers here to
    use the Shakespearian (or English) form with the final rhyming couplet.

    Line 1: the line starts with a direct echo of Wordsworth’s “Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:
    England hath need of thee . . .’

    The poet traces a direct line from himself to Wordsworth to Milton.
    The themes of Wordsworth’s poem in which he regrets the passing of certain values are similar to Cheng’s. Wordsworth’s ‘We are selfish men’ is reflected in ‘insatiate man moves in for the kill’.

    Line 2: There are many echoes of ‘The world is too much with us . . .’
    (These notes do not intend to be exhaustive in exploring the references.) Here Boey alters the context of Wordsworth’s phrase, ‘we lay waste our powers’ to ‘She [Nature] has been laid waste . . .’’

    Lines 5 to 10: The references to the sea-gods are explicable with reference to Wordsworth’s sestet in the poem mentioned above:

    ‘It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn:
    Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton, blow his wreathed horn.’
    However, Boey moves us out of mythology to contemporary reality
    with his image of the beached whale and man moving in for the kill.

    Lines 7 to 8: Triton was the son of Poseidon. He stilled the waves by blowing trumpets in the shape of conch shells. As with the image of the whale above, Boey brings a twentieth-century reality to the mythology as he shows the effects of pollution.

    Line 11: Wordsworth ends his poem about a rainbow, ‘My heart leaps up . . .’, with the words
    ‘And I could wish my days to be
    Bound to each by natural piety.’
    Line 12: again the poet pays homage to Wordsworth’s poem ‘On Westminster
    Bridge’ while taking his last line out of context.

    Lines 13 to 14: Among the rich allusions to be explored there is clearly a reference to the ozone layer in the wound widening in the sky which combines with the biblical echoes of the last line to the Crucifixion.

    a. What ideas do Boey and Wordsworth have in common?
    b. What new issues does Boey introduce that were not evident in Wordsworth’s
    poems? Are these ideas in harmony with the issues Wordsworth was concerned
    with?
    c. What images and words are particularly effective in the first four lines?
    d. In what ways is Boey’s poem a report to Wordsworth?

  2. The image and words which have a particularly effective in the opening of the poem is ‘the flowers are mute, and the birds are few’. Here, Boey conveys that life never will be perfect or normal. Live hard and die hard is basically what’s to recognise in this line and the whole poem. The way explores time in such a depressive manner it gives a subconscious feeling of severe depression or suicidal emotions.

    Comparisons can is made between Boey’s ‘Report to Wordsworth’ and Clarke’s ‘Lament’ as both poem deals with time. Both poems also express negative depression about nature. ‘Lament’ by Clarke defines the very reality of what had happened during the Gulf War, and is still on going right now in many parts of the world. Boey had decided to express his thoughts making use of Greek mythology, thus the two poems are very similar and yet very different. The main theme in these two poems defines the lack of respect humans have towards the natural environment nowadays. In neither poem does the poet blame anyone and its almost as if they hint that it might be everyone’s fault. The ending in these poems requires deeper thoughts. Clarke expresses ‘For vengeance, and the ashes of language’ and Boey expresses ‘God is labouring to utter his last cry’ both are simplifying to the point that there is a bigger power above us and humans aren’t as powerful as we think we are.

    1. Hello Nick,
      What a pleasure it is to receive your response! It is a mature and thoughtful one. I especially like how you selected the final two lines to discuss, and you commented on them rather well. Thank you for such a detailed response.

  3. The words that are particularly effective in the opening poem is “You should be here”. Here Boey conveys his idea of how everybody is needed to help the Earth. That every little bit of contribution will be appreciated. Also, he puts responsibility upon the reader, enforcing the idea that everybody can help and that our planet depends on it.

    In keeping with the tradition of the Romantic poets, Boey makes use classical Greek Roman gods as allusions to nature. The effect of these allusions is that when something as powerful as a god is left helpless because of what we have done, it makes us think about our responsibility on Earth. Boey uses gods as a way of comparing the past and the present. This comparison is effective because in the times where humans believed in these gods, we had not yet damaged the earth with cars and oil. But now that we have lost faith, nature is starting to fade away.

    Comparisons can be made between ‘Lament’ and ‘Report to Wordsworth’. Both poems deal with how us humans are destroying our own planet. In ‘Lament’ the poet is using the images of dying, suffering animals to create empathy from the reader. This is achieved because most humans find animals innocent and more pure than us selves. In ‘Report to Wordsworth’ Boey is using the old, Greek gods being helpless, looking at Earth with no hope left. In both of these poems we can find the connection of human destruction on our own planet. In Clarke’s poem he is mostly using metaphors for oil, for example “For the cormorant in his funeral silk” and” For the ocean’s lap with its mortal stain,” where she is creating a dark image in both lines. In ‘Report to Wordsworth’ Boey is referring to global warming in the line “O see the widening sky” where she is describing the destruction of the ozone layer. Both poems have a dramatic and mysterious ending. In ‘Lament’ this line is “For vengeance, and the ashes of language” where Clarke is describing that it was us humans who started this, by mentioning ‘language’. But also, when she says ‘ashes’ we can think of the Earth as a Phoenix, ready to be reborn and rise up from its ashes. In ‘Report to Wordsworth’ the ending line is “God is laboring to utter his last cry”, where Boey is changing from old, Greek gods to the still existing, Christian god. Also when the poet says ‘last cry’ it makes us think that we had our chance, and spoiled it. But also here, the idea of the Phoenix can be created, because after God has uttered his last cry, who knows what might appear?

  4. Yes I agree ‘You should be here’ is a powerful opening and really puts the onus on the reader to share in the responsibility of taking care of the Earth. You explore both poems, Benedicte, with unprecedented maturity, displaying excellent analytical skills and a growing ability to discuss your thoughts in substantial detail. This is, yet again, another excellent response, and shows you ability to touch on the complexities embedded in the poem rather than just merely skating on the surface. I like what you had to say about faith, past, present, and your Phoenix idea was well incorporated.

  5. The image and words that are particularity effective in the opening of the poem is ‘the flowers are mute, and the birds few.’ In the first part of this line, Boey conveys the image of the dying of the flower’s which are ‘mute.’ This suggests that the flowers are not moving at all or maybe even dead, which obviously means that they no longer make any noise. This is most likely due to our careless actions. In the second part of the line, the poet conveys the image of there being fewer birds that fly above. If you connect the fact that birds are animals that roam the skies and the fact that carbon dioxide emission also rises into the sky, it comes to a conclusion that we are also the ones responsible for the death of the birds.

    In keeping with the tradition of romantic poets, Boey makes use classical Greek and Roman Gods as allusions to the past. The effect of these allusions is that even before cars or factories were invented, humans already was treating nature inadequately. This shows that from the very beginning, we continue to think of nature as something that we can’t be bothered to care for.

    Comparisons can be made between Boey’s ‘Report to Wordsworth’ and Clarke’s ‘Lament.’ Both poems deal with the idea of how something has an impact on Mother Nature. Both poems are also describing the negative effect on Nature as a result of human’s actions. In the poem ‘Lament,’ the poet is describing the horrible impact on Nature as a result of our wars and conflicts. Similarly, in Boey’s ‘Report to Wordsworth,’ the poet is also describing what happens to nature as people continue to treat nature poorly. In ‘Report to Wordsworth,’ the poet decides to use Greek and Roman God’s to symbolize the past and Nature in a more wider sense. For example, in line nine, the poet says ‘Neptune lies helpless as beached as a whale’ with Neptune symbolizing every sea in the world. However, in ‘Lament’, Clarke decides to pick out specific animals such as ‘green turtles’, ‘the cormorant’, and many other birds and aquatic animals.

  6. A well-written response Brian which shows your thinking in relation to both poems. You write very clearly and your style of writing is very effective. I am pleased with the way you have managed to write your first comparison. It might have been worthwhile pointing out the similarities between Neptune being beached, with the same image which crops up in Clarke’s ‘Lament’. Excellent work, Brian.

  7. The image and words that are particularly effective in the opening of the poem is ‘flowers are mute, and the birds few.’ Here, Boey conveys images of the silent earth, as well, it gives the reader a cold, sad, and despair mood. The word ‘mute’ also present images of no nature, death, and only black and white exist. The line, ‘the birds few’ present the destruction of nature by humans. As well, it explains what effect did destroy of nature gave it to the animals.

    In keeping with the tradition of the Romantic Poets (Wordsworth and Keats) Boey make use classical Greek and Roman gods (Triton, Proteus, Poseidon, and Neptune) as allusions to nature. The effects of these allusions are that they give us images of past when nature which it was beautiful and clean. The poet Boey uses the gods as a way of comparing specific nature.

    Comparisons can be made between Boey’s ‘Report to Wordsworth’ and Clarke’s ‘Lament.’ Both poems deal with destroy of nature by human and it gives negative emotions to the reader. The two poems, ’Lament’ and ‘Report to Wordsworth’ convey the death of nature using images like ‘shadow’ and ‘dying clock’ as a comparisons. Also, both poems are giving a strong warning about pollution and the anger of nature. Especially, ‘Report to Wordsworth’ gives us strong anger of Nature by mentioning the great gods. The great god symbolize as a power of nature. Also, they mention animals and gods to show how bad thing they did in their own planet.

  8. The image and the words that are particularly effective in the opening of the poem us ‘she has been laid waste’. Here, Boey conveys several messages at once. First off, he uses ‘she’ for nature, representing the classical image of Nature being as fertile; associated with fertility, giving birth, as Mother Earth/Nature. The next impression from the words ‘has been laid’ is that it’s something continuous, a long process with layers of waste, both on earth, under ground, in the air and in the water.

    In keeping with the tradition of the Romantic Poets (Wordsworth and Keats) Boey makes use Classical Greek and Roman gods as allusions to nature. The effect of these allusions is that as those gods are western, the poet is somewhat implying that the Western countries with over a century of industrialization are the first one’s to smother nature – in the face of their gods. Boey uses the gods as a way of comparing mortality, and immortality, this comparison is effective because humans are in fact mortal, and as gods are trapped in waste and damaged nature, they will eventually break free and use rise for revenge, as in their world there is no end and every destruction is followed by rebirth; whereas in the human world an end is an end, and we’re hurting ourselves by destroying our environment.

    A comparison can be made between Boey’s ‘Report to Worsthworth’ and Clarke’s ‘Lament’. Both poems deal with the theme of co-existence of man and nature, and how human kind destroys the environment. The part that I find important is that it’s not about man living in and with nature, but precisely co-existing, humans feeling different and superior, at a lot of times more clever and powerful. The foolish arrogance and ignorance lead people to mis-use of power, leading to destruction of nature around us. Innocent animals being harmed, forests cut down, water polluted and the food chain interrupted.
    The line from Boey’s poem, ‘the birds are few’ and the list of birds that Clarke names (cormorant, tern, gull and wader) co-relate, as with the coming of more industrialized land, one barely sees birds anymore. The image of birds also evokes sounds, as birds are associated with their songs, which are now being replaced by the noise-pollution in cities.

    Another important aspect that poems cover is the water. In ‘Lament’ Clarke refers to and oil spill during the Gulf Was, which was a great damage. Boey refers to images of classical Greek gods in his lines about water; ‘all hopes of Proteus rising from the sea have sunk’ and ‘Triton’s notes struggle to be free, his famous honks are choked, his eyes are dazed’ and ‘Neptune lies helpless’. There images respond to the images of the sea being polluted by sticky oil, as gods struggle to break free from it, as do the ‘cormorants in their funeral silk’ and ‘the soldier in his uniform of fire’.

    Both of the authors bring up the image of whales being affected, as significant creatures, that are known to be the biggest animals on Earth, and their way of life is mysterious. ‘Neptune lies helpless as beached as a whale’ responds to ‘the whale struck dumb by the missile’s thunder.’

    In his poem, Boey refers to more abstract images, incorporating names of poets of the Romantic period, and names of classical Greek gods, yet using those metaphors, he outlines the modern problems, as though saying that the damage that we are causing in our time is suffocating the glory of the past. Whereas Clark refers to a reasonably recent event, the Gulf War, that deals with modern problems, such as fight for oil and the vast damages caused by the weapons that man can make nowadays. The fact that Boey refers to Greek and Roman gods, and Clarke refers to the Gulf war, brings out the fact that both the West and the East are causing damage, by fighting internally and with each other. Yet both of the poems manage to leave the same impression on the reader, as the reality is not going to change, no matter how one portrays it.

    1. I love your exploration into immortality and mortality, Diana, and it is well justified. Lovely comparison made between the gods wishng to break free from the destruction as with the animals in ‘Lament’. Good to identify the point that both poems contain whale imagery – perhaps explain more? This is an exceptionally detailed and sophisticate piece of writing which shows your distinct ability to write with great skill. This response is clever and original.

  9. From Arisa

    The images and words that are particularly effective in the opening of the poem is ‘You should be here’. From this line, Boey conveys a sudden, emergency like demand to the reader right from the beginning. By using ‘should’, it creates an undeniable request from the poet. It also puts the reader in a frustrating position since the reader had just read his/her first line of the poem and has no clue what the poet is wanting from us.

    In keeping with the tradition of the Romantic Poets (Wordsworth and Keats) Boey makes use of Classical Greek and Roman gods as allusions of nature. The effect of these allusions gives nature a powerful, godly personification that they have the authority and are in full control of nature. Boey uses the gods as a way of comparing the intensity of power and how large-scale of a size mother nature is. This comparison is effective because in our minds we convey gods as mighty and powerful already. Thus, by using gods in the poem, our thought adds to the way Boey uses gods as nature.

    Comparisons can be made between Boey’s ‘Report to Wordsworth ’and Clarkes’ ‘Lament’. Both poems deal with the destruction of nature due to humankind’s own business. The poems hold a negative, pessimistic atmosphere due to the poet’s usage of language. The poets use imagery as a way to represent its ideals of how much damage we have caused to wildlife. For example, in ‘Report to Wordsworth’, the poet writes, “All hopes of Proteus rising from the sea have sunk” In our minds, we hold the idea of gods has powerful and strong, but this contradicts that ideal by saying that the powerful gods cannot rise any longer. This creates a shocking and pitiful imagery of the intensity of the damage. Another example would be in ‘Lament’. The poet writes, “For the cormorant in his funeral silk, the veil of iridescence on the sand, the shadow on the sea”. This gives us an pessimistic and gloomy picture in our minds of the animals and nature that has been negatively affected.

    Although in the end, ‘Report to Wordsworth’ has more of a demanding or aggressive attitude to the reader, while ‘Lament’ holds more of a calm, regretful atmosphere. ‘Report to Wordsworth ‘has no noticeable repetitive language pattern instead in ‘Lament’, it shows an obvious and clear sequence of words in the poem.

    Comment For Arisa:

    Sorry Arisa I was unable to find a way to comment on your writing as I had to blog it as my own comment, so I hope you get the chance to read this. This is a wonderful piece of writing -clear, clever and mature from beginning to end. I love the comparison between the Gods and the power of mother nature -you have discussed this particularly well. I also really like the way you discuss the demands placed upon the reader when read the opening line to ‘Report …’. This was well observed and you discuss it clearly. You also discuss and compare the tone of both poems, which is an excellent technique/skill. Well done, Arisa.

  10. Boey Kim Cheng was a Singaporean born in 1965. He moved to Sydney in 1996 because he was disheartened at the state of literacy and the rapid growth at the cost of the environment in Singapore. This is reflected in his poems. All the people who had influenced him were poets who also wrote about the beauty of nature and how man is destroying it.
    The poem directs the readers’ attention to all the pollution created by man leading to the destruction of nature. Since Cheng was born in 1965, the poem is fairly recent. The poem is supposedly Cheng’s ‘letter’ to William Wordsworth, a nature poet from a while ago.
    ‘Report to Wordsworth’ is a sonnet expressing nature being destroyed by man’s pollution. It expresses the urge for man to go back to his old life where bonds between man and nature are strong. Cheng is implying that nature is dying and echoes Wordsworth’s thoughts about loving nature and helping protect it.
    In the first line of the poem, Cheng seems to say that Wordsworth should be here, to see how everything has changed in nature. Since Wordsworth was a nature loving poet, He showed the beauty of nature through words. Now that he is gone, the people of the world care less about nature. Cheng probably believes that if Wordsworth were here, there would be more words uttered to help save the world. “..The flowers are mute, and the birds are few in a sky slowing like a dying clock”. This line shows the decline of nature where the flowers are dumbstruck at the sight of the destruction of nature and the time left to reverse it is decreasing by the day. In the 5th, 6th and the beginning of the 7th stanza, Cheng talks about how people throw their trash into the ocean, trapping and killing the creatures that dwell in it. “Poetry and Piety have begun to fail” states that although some people have tried to help nature, others continue to ignore the problem. “See the wound widening in the sky” refers to the hole in the o-zone layer caused by human pollution.
    The poem is written in the style of a Shakespearian sonnet. It goes with a rhyming pattern of A B A C D C E F E F G G. There isn’t too much of a rhythm and there isn’t the same number of syllables in each line. The tone of the poem is very pessimistic.
    There are many images the poet draws into your mind, making you imagine all the words that he’s written. One would say that the mood of the poem is very depressing as Cheng talks of how nature is being destroyed due to our trash. As the readers read the poem, at the end of every line, their brain pauses, thinking of what the poet is trying to say to them through the poem affects them a bit more.

    1. Thank you ‘Avery’ for your detailed response. I didnt know that Cheng now lives in Sydney! I really enjoyed reading your response as you keep very close to the poet’s intentions. Thank you again.

  11. No-one seems to have commented on how technically crap this poem is. Its rhymes are either obvious or laughable; its rhythm is , at best, inept. Several lines are iambic pentameter in name only, it limps and staggers and lurches. Hardly brilliantly original imagery either – basically, he says – Nature’s nice, pollution is nasty. Thanks, Boey, for pointing that out. (D’oh!)
    Fans of crap poetry may respond that it’s supposed to be inept, to show how far we have fallen from wordwothian standards. Such people may be kidding themselves.
    .Some might call it referential or allusive, but others may feel it is simply parasitic.
    C’mon, Corachick, patronise me a little.

  12. “THANKS” is the word that describes the feeling for you all!
    I am from Argentina, Buenos Aires. Tomorrow, i have a very important test about this poem, among others, and i am reading all the coments this page has on all the poems i need to study, which is very helpful for me as it gives me the possibility of having different opinions of the poems i need to understund. THANK YOU, FROM ARGENTINA!

  13. It is a well know fact that the world is being destroyed. The evidence is all around us, we cannot hide from it; everyday our world suffers, and the main cause of this? Man.
    In ‘Report for Wordsworth’ by Boey Kim Cheng, very effective techniques, phrases and words are used to powerfully convey his feelings on human destruction of the natural world. He successfully portrays the lack of respect that humans have towards the environment, showing just how much negative impact we have on the world.
    Boey Kim Cheng creates an atmosphere of destruction and despair throughout the poem, using words such as ‘smothered’, ‘choked’ and ‘kill’, to show how violent the human race is towards nature. This successfully creates the reader to feel sorry for nature and realise that the ‘man’ who ‘moves in for the kill’ represents every human, including the reader; also creating a feeling of guilt.
    As the poem progresses, Cheng goes into more and more detail on how man is destroying the world; saying that even the gods cannot overcome the path of terror we are making. For example, ‘Neptune lies helpless as a beached whale’. Neptune is normally thought to as one of the most powerful gods; ruler of the seas. However, by using this simile, Boey Kim Cheng portrays Neptune as inferior when compared to man.
    It is obvious that Boey Kim Cheng feels something needs to be done about this, as even ‘god is labouring to utter his last cry’, he feels like even poetry has begun to fail’. He successfully expresses that the world William Wordsworth, the famous nature poet, back to help try and save the world, as if he is our only help. Cheng uses the poem to try and voice what nature feels and needs, he stands up for nature as no one else is.
    The structure of the poem also helps Cheng portray what is happening to nature. For example, at the end of line six, enjambment is used to make it look like ‘waste’ really has been dumped, as it drops onto the line below.
    As well as destruction, there is also a theme of time;
    I think this poem is very effective as it makes the reader realise just how bad our actions are. It powerfully conveys the actions and effects man has on Mother Nature, making us realise that something must be done.

  14. It is always good when analysing a poem to give a brief summary of the poem. In the case of this poem also stae that the poet reports to Wordsworh because as the father of Romantic poet it is fitting that the poet reports what is happening to nature: an object that Wordsworth adored in all its forms. Indeed Wordsworh celebrated nature in its pristine and purest state. Yet in his poems such as “Tintern Abbey” Wordsworth bemoaned the destruction of nature.

    In this poem, the poet articulates the point that nature is wilfully being destroyed:

    1. It has been laid waste
    2. The smog, perhaps, from cars and factories are depriving nature of air
    3. The flowers are mute and thus cannot “sing”
    4. Only a few birds remain on earth

    The poet blames the destruction on greedy, selfish and “insatiate” human beings

    The diction of the poem all point to the death o imminent death of nature. Words such as “smothered”; “mute”; and “entombed” all conjure images of death. The poet’s use of personification is poignant. To the poet man and nature are one and the same thing. Reference to some geographical objects such as “Triton” and “Neptune” brings the poem to life.. The poet makes generous use of alliterations. For example, “poetry and piety” as well as “smothered by the smog” emphasises the theme of the poem which is the wanton destruction of nature. The are several elements of Romantic poetry present in the poem: The poem concludes by bemoaning ultimate death of nature as as we “see the widening of the sky” and God ” labouring to utter his last cry”. This apocalyptic cry from God ends the poem on a pessimistic tone leaving the reader in a distruaght mood.

    Henry Amo Mensah
    hamjay2000@yahoo.com
    Windhoek international School
    Windhoek
    namibia

    1. Not sure, I am guessing ‘recent posts’ is about as close to an up to date section…? Thank you for your comments

  15. just wanted to say thanks 2 everyone who posted comments, thoughts, etc.
    it’s all been soooo helpful.
    i’m sitting 4 my lit. gcse paper 2morrow, and this has helped a lot.
    thanks again !

  16. just wanted to thank everyone who contributed info.
    this site has been sooo helpful.
    i’m sitting for my lit. gcse paper 2morrow…
    thanks again!

  17. This is so helpful as I will be sitting the CIE lit exam tomorrow.
    Definitely sharing this with my friends! Thank you so much!

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