Diane Ackerman Essay - Critical Essays


Influenced by poets such as Pablo Neruda and naturalists such as John Muir, Diane Ackerman frequently combines nature with human emotion or meanings, such as love. As a naturalist, Ackerman believes that humans should view nature as something that they are a part of, rather than something that is outside themselves. Ackerman is a self-proclaimed “sensuist,” which she defines as “someone who rejoices in sensory experience,” and much of her writing deals with the senses. She believes that people share instincts and feelings with the rest of the natural world and therefore should not attempt to keep themselves separate from nature. Much of her poetry bridges the gap between science, nature, and humanity, and attempts to blend them all into a single entity. Even in her prose, she is lyrical, incorporating bits of unfinished poetry into her prose at times.


As the title suggests, Planets focuses on astronomy and the human relation to the universe and Earth. Ackerman strives to express not only how minor humans are in comparison to the universe, but also how closely related poetry and science can be. Ackerman’s purpose in Planets is to connect poetry with science and space. This work is a series of long poems, one for each planet, and organized as the planets are seen in the sky. Cape Canaveral, asteroids, and the Comet Kohoutek also get poems, and even the dedication and the prologue are given in poem form. In addition to the poetry, Ackerman includes a glossary of scientific terms, as well as a section of notes that link her abstract poetical phrases to the concrete reality of science, literature, and occasionally slang in an attempt to further blend science with the poetic.

Ackerman uses not only words but also visual imagery to convey her meanings in Planets. Each of her poems begins with a picture or a diagram of the planet or the topic. Some, like Saturn, have both a picture and diagram. In “Uranus,” Ackerman goes even further, by writing the poem (which is actually in the form of a play) lengthwise on the page, so the reader must turn the book on its side to read. As she explains in the endnotes, she uses this tactic because the planet Uranus appears to be sideways when viewed from a telescope, so she forces readers to view her...

(The entire section is 949 words.)