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Snowy Egret, Vol. 75, #1
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"An Insect View of Its Plain"“Thoreau, Dickinson and Muir had mutual interests in the relationships between science, culture, and nature, relationships that they were partly able to explore and express through the observed habits and experiences of insects. Sharing the belief that nature was a reflection of God's intention... they recognized that insects, like every other particle of nature, were lovingly created by God to serve a unique purpose."

Thoreau's belief that "To be awake is to be alive" is ultimately connected to his understanding of the natural harmony of the universe. One of the ways he can "learn to reawaken and keep [himself] awake not by mechanical means, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn," is to heed the persistent whine of the mosquito,

"An Insect View of Its Plain"

Insects, Nature and God in Thoreau, Dickinson and Muir
by Rosemary Scanlon McTier
McFarland, 2013


A work of literary criticism with an ecological bent, this book examines the writings of three prominent 19th century American authors - Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and John Muir  - for their observations of insects and conclusions about their role in creation.

The title of this work is drawn from Henry David Thoreau's essay The Natural History of Massachusetts in which he imagines how the world looks to an insect: "Nature will bear the closest inspection; she inspires us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain."

Citing a lack of critical attention to the presence of insects in 19th century literature, author Rosemary Scanlon McTier proceeds to address that gap.

Migratory Locust, 1896
Migratory Locust, 1896

Little Sparks of Life

Muir's appreciation of nature allows him to recognize the smallest and unacknowledged citizens of creation as special recipients of God's attention. Regarded as insignificant or ignored, or, more often, disdained or abhorred by humanity, insect life, Muir begins to believe, is especially important to God. Witnessing "Butterflies colored like the flowers... and many other beautiful winged people, numbered and known and loved only by the Lord... waltzing together high over head, seemingly in pure play and hilarious enjoyment of their little sparks of life."

Muir is captivated by the marvelous display of God's creativity and ingenuity: "Regarded only as mechanical inventions, how wonderful they are! Compared with these, Godlike man's greatest machines are as nothing."

The lowliest of insects, a common gnat or housefly, is more remarkable than any of the achievements of science and medicine, art and architetcure, that mankind uses to reinforce the belief that humanity is superior to nature.



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Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

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