Waxing Poetic: Our National Parks in Verse
Poetry and national parks are inextricably linked. National parks across the country have inspired countless poets, and some poets have even had national parks created in their honor. From the exhilarating landscape of Badlands National Park to the quiet corners of Carl Sandburg's historic home, these parks are some of the best places in America to explore the power of poetry.
The Robert Frost Poetry Trail
Few poets have captured the beguiling quality of the natural world — both its beauty and its darkness — better than Robert Frost. Tucked away on the wooded grounds of Vermont’s Marsh - Billings - Rockefeller National Historical Park, the Robert Frost Poetry Trail winds through a landscape of quiet trees and meadows not unlike the New England environment that provided Frost with so much inspiration. More than a dozen Robert Frost nature poems are posted along the trail, including “The Sound of Trees,” “Birches,” and “The Road Not Taken.”
Birthplace of the national anthem
Before "The Star-Spangled Banner," became our national anthem, it was a poem written by a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key. Detained off the Maryland coast by the British as they bombarded nearby Fort McHenry in 1814, Key was inspired to write the immortal lines when he saw the American flag still flying the next morning. “The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem in 1931, and Fort McHenry National Memorial and Historic Shrine remains a stirring reminder of the power of its poetry.
Artists in Residence
Several national parks showcase the works of lesser-known contemporary poets through Artist in Residence programs, and when it comes to inspiring landscapes, few can compare to the Badlands. Evan Harris was selected as the first of many poets to represent the program at South Dakota’s Badlands National Park in 1998. Check out the nature poems inspired by Harris's residency, and visit the park yourself to experience the power of the Badlands firsthand.
The third season of annual Poetry Walks takes place from April 1 to May 31 at Washington's Olympic National Park. Coinciding with National Poetry Month, this program features inspiring nature poetry along five of the park's beautiful hiking trails. Look for poems along the Living Forest Trail, Peabody Creek Trail, Madison Creek Falls Trail, Spruce Railroad Trail, and Hall of Mosses Trail. Maps and trail information are available at the park's visitor centers.
The Fog Comes on Little Cat Feet
One of the most influential poets of the 20th century, Carl Sandburg spent much of his life at a beautiful but unassuming 245-acre farm in North Carolina. Now open to the public as the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, the farm includes the house where Sandburg wrote some of his best-known work, as well as the vast grounds and outbuildings — still an operating farm to this day. Guided tours of the house and grounds take place throughout the year.
Once Upon a Midnight Dreary
When it comes to 19th century American writers and poets, few inspire the deep fascination and thrill that’s evoked when thinking about Edgar Allan Poe. Walk through the rooms of his Philadelphia home — the place where he published classics such as “The Gold-Bug” and “The Spectacles.” Descend into the spine-chilling basement that inspired “The Black Cat.” And as you listen to Poe’s works — narrated by the likes of Christopher Walken and Basil Rathbone — reflect on the words that inspired the minds of Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, and many others. Open from Friday through Sunday (9am - 12noon and 1pm - 5pm), the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is a must-see for literary lovers.
Our national parks continue to inspire poetry in America, and poetry continues to enhance our parks. With more than 50 Artist in Residence programs at national parks across the country, you may even have a chance to add your own voice to the conversation.