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Promulgating Environmental Awareness in Mamang Dai’s River Poems


Promulgating Environmental Awareness in Mamang Dai’s River Poems

Dr. S. Sudha

Assistant Professor of English

Dr. N. G. P. Arts and Science College

Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India


Literature is considered as fine arts with aesthetic expression. It foregrounds many hidden voices and it attacks the institutions both at theoretical and also at practical level. In the field of literature, ecocriticism plays an important role. It is the study of relationship between literature and the physical environment. Romanticism is said to be the rudiment of Ecocriticism. The main notion of romanticists is that they want humans to be a part of nature and so they have communion with nature. In the past, Romanticists did it and in the present Ecocritics strive to do it. Plight of Ecocritics is that they want humans to consider land as space which has so many voices and it should be seen in the sense of personification not in metaphysical sense. Ecocriticism as the theoretical discourse stresses the fact that man has forgotten that he is connected to the nature and he is destroying it. As a voice of all the Ecocritics, Mamang Dai, a renowned poet and a short story writer culls out the significance of natural resources and how these resources were in the past and how it is in the present through personification from her River Poems. This paper, on the whole, culls out the consequences of human beings’ violence towards nature and how human should protect the nature.


Keywords: Ecocriticism; physical environment; romanticists; protection


Literature is said to be a culture specific production. It showcases so many untold and unfolds truths. Literature as a tool foregrounds many hidden voices and it attacks institutions both at theoretical and also at practical level. Marginalized literatures gain momentum in the academia and it brings out so many unheard voices. In the field of literature, theories and criticisms are considered as important and paved way for many researchers to have a philosophical discussion on various studies. Amidst all these theories and criticism, Ecocriticism or sometimes referred as ‘green studies’ focuses on natural world.

Ecocriticism as a critical approach began in USA in the 1980s and it began to creep up in UK in the early 1990s. Cheryll Glotfelty has defined ‘ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment’ (Glotfelty xviii) who instigated ecocriticism along with co-editor Harold Fromm in the essay entitled The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology (University of Georgia Press, 1996). She is also one of the pioneers of ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and Environment). Ecocriticism first arose in the late 1970s and William Rueckert coined the term ‘ecocriticism’ in 1978 in his essay Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism.

Ecocriticism becomes an important critical approach in America by three major nineteenth –century American writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller and Henry David Thoreau. Their works have focused on natural world. In UK, Romanticists have introduced ecocriticism in 1790s. Poets of romantic age have the art of mysticism and through this art they have brought out the hidden beauty of nature. The main notion of romanticists is that they want humans to be a part of nature so that they can have communion with nature. The founding of Ecocriticism in UK is Jonathan Bate. Laurence Coupe’s the Green Studies Reader: From Romanticism to Ecocriticism divulges the issues of nature from romantic period to the present. Jonathan Bate’s The Songs of the Earth, proclaims the environmental consciousness and the argument for the essential requirement of literature in a time of ecological crisis.

In the past, Romanticists brought out the hidden beauty of nature and in the present ecocritics strive to do it. An important thing to be noted is that ecocriticism is highly a proactive tool and it can be used in all spheres of life. In the world of post modernism, fragmentation is being celebrated which paves way for chaotic disorders. Anthropocentrism at its peak makes man to think that he is the crown of all creations and this has paved way for Ego vs. Eco. Ecocritical approach paves way for multidimensional approach in literature. In the present society, land is being subjected to various issues.

Ecocritics want the humans to consider land as space which has so many voices and it may be seen in personification sense and not in a metaphorical sense. Encompassing everything in one roof is the mystical beauty of ecocriticism. Though ecocriticism does not focus on philosophical discussion of literature, it strives hard to unfold the truth of an existing modernized world using literature as a significant tool. There are many ecocritics who exhibit the present scenario of natural world. Among all these critics, Mamang Dai is a renowned Indian journalist, poet and a short story writer who document the customs and culture of her land in her works.

Mamang Dai lives in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. She is the former member of the Indian Administrative Services. She has chosen journalism over Indian Administrative Services. Dai has received “state’s Verrier Elwin Award” for her book Arunachal Pradesh – The Hidden Land in 2003. Dai’s poems and writings are published in many journals and anthologies. Dai is awarded the “Padma Shri” in 2011 for her contribution in the field of literature and education. Her other major works are The Legends of Pensam, Stupid Cupid, El balsam del tiempo – The balm of time.

According to Cheryll Glotfelty, “all ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it” (xix). Cheryll Glotfelty promulgates the fact that human beings are connected with the physical world but in this present scenario, man plays a central role and controls the entire world. In other words, it is said to be ‘Anthropocentrism’. The word ‘Anthropocentrism’ consists of two words ‘Anthropos’ and ‘centric’. ‘Anthropos’ means ‘man’ and ‘centric’ means ‘centre around’. It speaks about the centrality and superiority of man. The term ‘Anthropocentrism’ focuses only on human beings’ interests, values and practice rather than any species in the world. It considers human being as the centre of universe because of his analyzing capacity. As mentioned in Anthropocentrism, man has shown himself superior to all the non-human creatures and exploited nature. In the ancient period, man has worshipped nature and he is dependent on nature. Due to the development of science and technology, human beings’ attitude towards nature has been changed.

Mamang Dai, as a nature poet, brings out the life of her homeland, its tradition and culture and the heritage of her land in her collected poems entitled River Poems. As a representative of tribes, she foregrounds the consequences of people in this modernity. Mamang Dai expresses her feelings and emotions through personification. She emphasizes that the old faith, heritage, culture and identity seem gradually fading due to modernization. According to her, nature has no end, due to the development in technologies and urbanization, man has forgotten this truth.

  One of Dai’s poetry titled “Sky Song” speaks of the present condition of nature:

I thought I saw you waving

In greeting or farewell

I could not tell,

When summer

changed hands again

only the eastern sky remained;

One morning

flowering peonies

swelled my heart with regret. (22)

As an ecocritic, Mamang Dai has used nature as her central theme in her poem “Sky Song”, she has explained that human beings’ perspective on nature are different in ancient times. They have appraised nature as deity and respected what nature has given to them. She grieves at present because physical environment is shifting rapidly and human considers nature as a profit and alienated from it.

 Mamang Dai, as a tribe, acknowledges that tribal communities have become the victim of urbanization. Tribal groups are tender towards nature. According to them, universe is encompassed with natural elements such as earth, water, air, and light. They have credence these elements by which the world has been created. As claimed by tribes, water and air are the primordial elements of this universe. They consider water as the primary need of man in all the stages of life. They believe that unpolluted pure air is an origin of healthy and prosperous life.

Many of these tribal societies have gone through a process of transition from changing agriculture to settled farming from clan land ownership to land commoditization. Tribes have suffered torments that are unheard because of violence, and deforestation. Tribes live primarily in the dense forest but the forests have been destroyed due to modernization.

Most of the tribal community resources are inevitably dispossessed. Tribal people are the first to suffer ecological crises due to climatic disorder and other human-caused problems. Relationship between men and physical environment gradually transformed from Stone Age, subjugation of animals, domesticating fire to cultivation, currency, industrialization, innovations in science etc. According to T.V. Reed, “aesthetic appreciation of nature has not only been a class-coded activity, but the insulation of the middle and upper classes from the most brutal effects of industrialization has played a crucial role in the environmental devastation (151)”. The frontier between nature and human being is relocating rather than fading.

Contemporary world is considered as the period of science. Technological mentality and crass materialism have dominated environmental ethics in the world. Humankind faces the consequences of natural calamities, environmental degradation and ecological imbalance at present because they are totally embedded in materialistic ambitions, self motives and become insensitive towards ecological surroundings.

In one of Mamang Dai’s poetry titled “Broken Verse,” she says:

Once so precious

your embrace

like faith and laughter,

now wraps itself

around a question mark. (39)

Every species is dependent on nature in the world. Every species believe and embrace when they follow a natural course of evolution but it has begun to affect this natural order. The condition of nature between industrialization and capitalism become questionable. Being a poet, Mamang Dai delivers her ideas regarding changes occur in the present scenario. There is an abundance of nature and used imageries in all her nature poems. As a critic, Dai brings out the traumatic conditions of nature in the anthropocentric world. She remarks that human is also the integral part of nature. Thus, all living organisms directly or indirectly depend on nature for their shelter. Consequently, devastation of nature leads to the destruction of universe. For the sake of living, to keep the ecosystem healthy, human must protect nature and planet.

Works Cited

Bocking, Stephen. Ecologists and Environmental Politics: A History of Contemporary Ecology. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997. Print.

Dai, Mamang. River Poems. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 2004. Print.

Ecology. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996. Print.

Glotfelty, Cheryll and Harold, Fromm. The Ecocriticism Reade: Landmarks in Literary, United States: University of Georgia Press, 1996. Print.

Reed, T.V., Google books. Environmental Awareness and the Design of Literature. Web. 29 January 2020. </https://books.google.com/books/about/Environmental_Awareness_and_the_Design_/>.