Art, Science and Metamorphosis in Nature

Robert Hass, right, and Brenda Hillman, Olivia Filipi Chair in Poetry and director of the MFA programThe January term speaker series finished last Thursday with a presentation on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and environmentalism by SMC alumnus and renowned poet Robert Hass. 

Hass, who graduated from Saint Mary’s in 1963, discussed how the concept of change in nature can be better understood by a study of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in connection with modern literature.  “Nature is about change, always has been.  Both literature and science try to understand it, so it’s interesting to hold Ovid’s magical stories of mythic transformation up to the way it was used in modern literature,” he said.

A central point in Hass’ presentation was the description of metamorphosis in literature and science and the search for understanding about the nature of change.  “The idea of changing from one kind of thing to another is powerful,” Hass said. 

To facilitate a better understanding of the environment, Hass pointed to the intersection of art and literature with science — a greeting of the humanities, as he put it—a place where we can explore solutions to problems like pollution and the extinction of species.  “We’ve added 140 percent more gigatons of carbon to the air in the last hundred years than were in the air for 2,000 years before that.  That’s one kind of change that your generation is trying to think about and deal with,” Hass said.   

Hass read from poets like Yates, for example, and discussed theories from scientists like Darwin, to unite science and art to address perspectives on the nature of change and how environmentalism might be approached today. “You have to have a way of thinking about this stuff to begin to approach it,” Hass said.