Abstract

Tweet tweet jug jug: Learning to Listen in the Romantic Anthropocene

This essay reflects on the experience of teaching Romantic bird poetry through the lens of our current anthropogenic environmental crises. In particular, it considers how we can not only read but also hear Romantic poetry anew as an undulating constellation murmuring beneath the Anthropocene, particularly as birdsong is in the process of disappearing as climate change threatens mass avian extinction. It explores how we might attend to those bird sounds and silences in poetry by Smith, Coleridge, Keats, and Clare in light of this impending silence. I describe the lesson in detail, which begins with students giving an account of their lives among our wasted environments (on local and global levels) before moving into the Romantic past. I frame this backward pedagogical approach through the rhetorical figure of hysteron proteron (temporal inversion). The lesson chiefly aims to cultivate a sonic sensibility, one that makes students better listening subjects attuned to sonic changes in their environments. It accomplishes this by pairing select poems about the nightingale with a contemporary digital sound sculpture that makes bird sound audible and visible. Developing a method of “close listening,” a model of acoustic intimacy that requires becoming attentive to the layers of ubiquitous sounds, I frame listening as an act of turning us outward, one that makes us more perceptually aware citizens of the Anthropocene.