Celebrating National Poetry Month: Part 1

April 7, 2022
A group of students sits on chairs and on the ground in a garden while writing.

Photo: Catherine Staples

Villanova’s Nature Writing Workshop takes place almost exclusively out of doors. Last  fall, students read and wrote their way through the gardens, meadows, and woods of Stoneleigh: a natural garden. Over the next two weeks, in honor of National Poetry Month, this blog will feature student work from Nature Writing Workshop 2021.

You’ll find some pieces are grounded in well-loved spots–the stand of white pines, the view from the porch, the bog garden. Other pieces have been composed under the influence of the garden and within the mind-set it awakens. Please check back for the next set of poems and prose pieces.

–Professor Catherine Staples
English and Honors

Cecile Schuller.

There is something magical about trees that droop all the way to the ground as the Katsura does in the field in front of the house. Within this space is a little living cavern that glows green in the sunlight.

Katsura Tree 

Like a shaggy dog napping in sunshine,

The Katsura tree rests in the middle of a field.

Stiff branches brush the ground and leaves rustle in the wind,

Crushed grass marks a parting in the branches

Revealing a haven

Bathed in mottled green and golden light.

Like a shrine to a god now long forgotten

The outside world is hushed—urging tiptoes, reverence

In the tiny, wooded room

Where robins bicker, and a leggy spider

Leisurely crosses a swaying web

That shimmers as light dances across it.


Like the playhouses of childhood, the Katsura

Stands firm while transforming into a house—

A cathedral with stained glass, green and gold—

An enchanted forest—the trees of Tom Bombadil—

A fortress under siege—it blooms with imagination,

This tree that stands alone.

Amelia Middlebrooks.

“Fate’s Lament” was written in late September out of a combination of old memories and new observations at Stoneleigh: a natural garden. This poem was written about an old drainage pipe that I used to explore as a kid. It is also written in response to the natural beauty of the gardens of Stoneleigh and the natural beauty I experienced there. I combined my newer observations of nature and the passage of the seasons with that old terror of the drainage pipe to write something inspired by Greed mythology. What did Orpheus think at the gates to the Underworld? I don’t know, but I wonder at it here, and his ability to not only walk below the earth but back out again as well.

Fate’s Lament

Curse the sunstruck musician,

The Belladonna kiss of wind whispering through trees and along rocks.

The sweet, intoxicating scent of flowers that drip deep red, with thorns to match.

The lush berries and waxy leaves, mortal in their perfection, untouched by bird or beast.

A twisting sea of snakes, vines of hemlock curl and blanket the earth.

All these and more sit at the entrance to the Underworld.

A gaping maw, lined with teeth of stone and lips of dirt,

It sits and waits; those who pass its rocky mouth will never see the sun again.

The air feels hungry here.

It tears at the trees and rips through the grass,

A last, stale breath, that gnaws through trunk and root.

The slow, dying trickle of a stream slides down that parched throat.

It glitters amongst the leaves like gold.

A band of laurels left as an offering to long dead gods.

It is the greatest mystery how Orpheas left the melancholy beauty,

Of this garden, to travel down in search of love lorn life.

But the music of decay is soft as mourning,

And it carries the death of seasons past the gates.

Dillon Ryan.

This piece began in the meadow with the idea that memories are embedded in the landscapes where they happen.

Landscapes of Life 

My left hand wrangled around the top of his sole-soaked shoe. I stared into the raging white water praying to see a familiar face show itself in the next few seconds. Nothing. I could feel the grip slipping from my control. I let it. The dangling foot spilled into the water and vanished with the rest of the body. Dad had been pulled under.

My heart froze in its tracks. The silver Honda CRV had made the left-hand turn on the green arrow and had no intention of stopping. I was barreling forward at 40 MPH with no realization of the red light that hung right above me. The Perfect Crash.

My ears perked up at the sound of rattling in the distance. I expressed my concern to Dad but he was adamant about pushing forward. A few more steps in the same direction brought us right to the shedded skin of the venomous rattlesnake. One more hesitant step.

My uneven skis skidded across the unforgiving ice. I flattened them out but the relentless momentum propelled me toward the edge. I got a glimpse of the sign. Cliff Area. Do Not Enter. I dropped to the ground in a desperate effort to slow myself. In a few short seconds, I would feel the full force of gravity.

Though the life-threatening fear of each of these moments has stuck in my mind to this day, so has the environment in which each of these moments occurred.

I can recall the raging white water that pulled my father out of our yellow inflatable raft on that excruciatingly hot summer day. The sun beat down on our fatherless boat as we floated down the river, searching the foggy water in vain. A hawk overlooked the incident on its single sturdy branch sticking out from the sodden red cliff which bound the river tightly. It screeched loudly, mocking my dad’s calls for help that were drowned out by the roar of the river. The horse flies felt no mercy for us in this time of sorrow. They pierced our skin, fiending for any drop of blood they could suck on. Finally, I remember the light winged Monarch that fluttered over my dad’s head as he broke the river’s surface after one minute and fifteen seconds of being dragged by the underwater current of a class four rapid.

I can recall the darkened clouds that rested in the air outside my car window as I sped 40 miles an hour past a red light. It was going to rain. I wish I had gotten a chance to whiff the air in that moment, allow my nose to tell my brain that yes, rain was coming. I remember the terrified face that painted itself on the window of the car turning left into mine. We both had a meeting with death, only I was the one that signed both of us up. Finally, I remember the plush green Conifers that filled the street on which the car successfully made its left hand turn as my brake pedal used all of its might to hold back the 2 tons of metal I was controlling.

I can recall the tall, wheat-like grass that covered the rocky valley through which we hiked. The narrow “path” held footprints of small rodents and other unidentifiable creatures. The moon surpassed the sun in control of the skies, shimmering on the wet rocks that lay by the river bed. We could see the water from way up high, but it looked much calmer than from up close. My ears rang from the constant hum of the rattlesnake tails circling their natural habitat. Finally, I remember the sweet smell of bacon drifting into my nostrils from the campground grill as we returned safely from the hike with only a rattlesnake scare and not a rattlesnake bite.

I can recall the leafless pine trees whose trunks were hidden in the deep powder of the pillow like snow. The crystalized snowflakes poured down from the blinding sky, melting at the warm touch of my insulated glove. The penetrating wind cut through my three layers of clothing, frosting the insides of my body to negative temperatures. Finally, I remember the tiny village filled with log cabins and Christmas lights that stood at the bottom of the mountain, a view which I was only able to obtain by stopping just above the 40 foot cliff drop.

Of course, I will always have appreciation for the beauty of a white sand beach or the wonder of a temple built thousands of years ago, but the landscapes that truly shape my life are those that made me appreciate it that much more!

Part 2