Reading Time: 5 minutes

Trophic Cascade by Camille T Dungy is a poem that explores the ecological concept of a trophic cascade, where changes in one level of a food chain can profoundly affect an entire ecosystem. The poem is a powerful and moving exploration of motherhood, the natural world, and the Anthropocene. The poem is structured as a dialogue between the speaker and her child, and it uses the concept of a trophic cascade as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things. It is part of Dungy’s broader body of work that addresses environmental themes and the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Trophic Cascade is a free-verse poem with 31 enjambed lines relating the speaker’s experience of becoming a mother. She compares this milestone in her life with the reintroduction of grey wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the United States. Through her use of fertile denotative and connotative language and comparative imagery conveyed through metaphor and simile, Dungy suggests that the resemblance between the re-birth of an ecosystem and giving birth to another human being is considerable. Nature and humanity are intimately connected and interdependent; the speaker advocates the importance of treating nature like one would treat a fragile newborn.

Camille T Dungy

The speaker begins by describing her experience of giving birth to her child. She compares the process to a trophic cascade, a natural phenomenon in which the reintroduction of a top predator to an ecosystem can have a ripple effect throughout the food chain. In this way, the speaker suggests that the birth of her child is not just a personal event but also a microcosm of the larger forces shaping the world.

The speaker then goes on to describe the impact that her child has had on her relationship with the natural world. She writes that her child has taught her to see the world with new eyes and appreciate all life’s beauty and fragility. She also writes about the fear she feels for her child’s future, given the challenges that the Anthropocene poses to our planet. However, the speaker also expresses hope for the future. She believes that her child’s generation will be the one to save the world. She writes that her child’s generation will be the one to “reclaim the wild” and create a more sustainable future for all.

The most apparent feature of the poem is its extensive vocabulary relating to nature. There are 18 fauna species mentioned throughout the text and various references to vegetation and organic landscapes. This lexicon is generally associated not with humanity but with wilderness description, which is the central focus of the poem until near the very end. Only in the last few lines does the reader realize that Dungy is, in fact, skillfully personifying a whole ecosystem. The speaker is a new mother who clarifies that she considers Yellowstone an organic whole, just like her. This attribution of human characteristics to the long account of this environmental rejuvenation makes the connection between nature’s resurrection and childbirth much more vivid since the two are depicted as containers of all this fresh growth.

The names of specific elements of nature mean that the reader could focus on their denotation; however, many of them have a connotation that stresses the importance of the wilderness. The title contains an element that hints at the poem’s parallel because “trophic” is attributed to the “relationships between species in a food chain or web” in the study of animals and other living organisms. This definition also has a connotative suggestion because Trophic Cascade is a narrative of how every creature is intrinsically linked to others, whether they have consciousness or not. It further highlights how humans are also closely connected to nature and how their co-existence is crucial. Alliteration throughout the poem appeals to the reader’s sight and again points out the similarities between the environment and the circle of life.

Nature as a Complex Web

The poem describes nature as a “complex web,” highlighting the intricate relationships between different species in an ecosystem. This web is presented as fragile, suggesting that disruptions at one level can have repercussions throughout the system.

Imagery and Sensory Details

Dungy employs vivid imagery and sensory details to convey the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Phrases like “a trickle of foam,” “creek of reeds,” and “loamy floor” create a sensory-rich experience for the reader, evoking the sights and sounds of the environment.

Human Impact

The poem alludes to human impact on the environment, referencing “airborne toxins” and “sunrise orange on the horizon.” These elements suggest the negative consequences of human activities on ecosystems and the delicate balance of nature.

Trophic Cascade as Metaphor

The trophic cascade is used as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of life. The poem illustrates how changes in one part of the ecosystem, represented by the top predator, can ripple through the food chain and affect all levels, ultimately impacting the entire ecosystem.

Environmental Awareness

Dungy’s poem serves as a call for environmental awareness and stewardship. It underscores the importance of recognizing the consequences of human actions on the natural world and the need for responsible environmental practices.

Emphasis on Balance

The poem highlights the delicate balance in ecosystems and the importance of maintaining that balance. It suggests that natural or human-induced disruptions can have far-reaching and often unforeseen consequences.

Reflection on Nature’s Resilience

Despite the fragility depicted in the poem, there is also an undercurrent of nature’s resilience. The ecosystem, while susceptible to disruptions, can adapt and regenerate.

Trophic Cascade by Camille T Dungy is a wonder of nature poetry that uses various literature and poetry techniques to relate the life-changing experience of motherhood to the reinvention of an ecosystem and how both must exist in harmony to protect each other’s fragility. Dungy also cleverly challenges the patriarchal notion of the superiority of male toughness by showing that a woman is as powerful as nature itself, as competent for growth as a revived ecosystem, and able to accomplish as much as a ravenous carnivore.