Botanist on Alp is the title of two poems, "Botanist on Alp (No. 1) and "Botanist on Alp (No. 2), appearing in Stevens' second book: Ideas of Order.
Who is the Botanist?Edit
A botanist is a scientist specializing in botany, the study of plant life. The poems do not appear to refer to a particular botanist. Rather, the botanist serves as a kind of replacement and/or foil for the figure of the poet. As both lyric speaker and scientist, the botanist is in an odd position: he is at once an empiricist and a romantic, encountering nature from two simultanous but (arguably) opposed perspectives. The botanist thus embodies the two primary poles of Stevens' ontology; he is both a realist and, for lack of a better word, an imaginarian.
What is the Botanist Doing on an Alp?Edit
The Alps , of course, are a European mountain range of about 1200 kilometers. The range stretches across no less than 8 countries, including Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, Liechtenstien, Germany, France, Italy and Monaco.
In the poem, the botanist is apparently taking a walking tour of the Alps and is responding to the "panoramas" he encounters along the way. The specific literary significance of the setting lies in Book Six of Wordsworth's Prelude, wherein the majestic panoramas of the Alps provide Wordsworth the opportunity to muse on "infinitude," "universal reason," and the eternal "truths of young and old," as well as to address his own soul in what Stevens identifies as the now "forbidden" (by modernism) mode of the apostrophe. In Botanist on Alp (No. 1), the botanist, rationalist that he is, argues that "panoramas aren't what they used to be" and notes that the romantic approach to nature, which posits an essential and indeed actual correspondence between subjective consciousness and the objective world, is no longer a viable option for artists. The remainder of the Botanist on Alp (No.1) and the entirety of Botanist on Alp (No. 2)--which further alludes to The Prelude by duplicating Wordsworth's vision of the Convent of the Grand Chartreuse--develop contra this argument, providing a defense of poetry which inverts the Romantic construction, positing that subjective consciousness as a necessary complement to external nature, arguing that only in the mind, or in language, that nature can be provided, via the act of imagination perception, with an organizing meaning (a "theme" for "composition") as well as with a sense of the "ecstatic" or of "delight."