The eco-philosophical poem
: enacting ecological theory through a formal poetics

  • Tarn William Painter-Macarthur

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The following thesis investigates why eco-philosophy and eco-poetry should be studied and read concurrently. Specifically, it demonstrates how eco-poetry formally enacts foundational eco-philosophical theories and processes by providing the reader an experiential understanding of otherwise abstract and theoretical concepts. The chapters within pursue this investigation by pairing eight modern and contemporary poets alongside contemporaneous theorists whose ecological theories their poetry is in dialogue with. Both the periods and the poets and theorists have been selected to demonstrate two primary points: first, that the emergent understanding of the human relation to the nonhuman world has helped to create a formal poetics that evolved alongside the environmental humanities as an academic field; and second, that poetic technique helps to better contextualise and even overcome prominent philosophical dualisms addressed in ecological theory, including the self/other, the human/nonhuman, the local/global, and the physical/spiritual. To pursue these endeavours this thesis is divided into four chapters that take their topics from the environmentalist and ecological philosopher Arne Naess, who states that ‘individuals’, ‘species’, ‘ecosystems’, and ‘landscapes’ are nexuses through which humans come to identify themselves with the nonhuman world. The chapter ‘Individuals’, pairs poets Elizabeth Bishop and Don Domanski with theorists Arne Naess and Timothy Morton. The chapter ‘Species’, pairs poets Marianne Moore and Vicki Hearne with theorists Paul Shepard and Donna Haraway. The chapter ‘Ecosystems’, pairs poets Gary Snyder and Karen Solie with theorists Murray Bookchin and Bruno Latour. The chapter ‘Landscapes’, pairs poets Theodore Roethke and Charles Wright with theorists Aldo Leopold and Yi-Fu Tuan. Throughout, this thesis is consistently invested in recognising how poetry can be seen as formally enacting the eco-philosophical processes through which humans realise their inherent interrelatedness and interconnectedness with the nonhuman world.
Date of Award3 Dec 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJohn Burnside (Supervisor)


  • Ecopoetics
  • Poetry
  • Ecopoetry
  • Ecology
  • Ecological philosophy
  • Animal poems
  • Nature poetry
  • Actor-network theory
  • North American poetry
  • Literature and the environment

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 20 May 2029

Cite this