For Rachel Carson,1907-1968
In La Belle Dame sans Merci
John Keats writes about the sedge
That withered from the lake
And the birds that stopped to sing.
But unlike the poet’s merciless Dame
You, Rachel, you were a Lady
Of great compassion.
The eels and the scombrids still swim
Under the Sea Wind somehow
Yet your Silent Spring evokes
A verdant season without bird song
On the pesticide fields.
Half a century ago you warned
That the abuse of DDT
And other chemicals harm
And kill animals and humans.
And then the chemical corporations
Reacted to your words
With savage furor and venom.
They accused you with all sort of things:
Of being a hysterical woman
Without proper scientific training
Who did not understand the need
To weigh potential risks against benefits.
They also accused you
Of being responsible
For millions of deaths around the globe
Caused by malaria
Because DDT can kill mosquitoes
And a ban on it would hinder control
Of malaria transmission.
These were untrue
And malicious accusations.
In fact, you never suggested
To ban DDT or chemicals.
You just said to use pesticides
With caution and to spray
With as little as possible.
Since then your vision
Has been vindicated
And remarkably, the poisonous campaign
Of the chemical industry against you
The public became aware
Of the dangers of pesticides
And governments outlawed
The use of DDT.
However, you became gravely ill
In the struggle.
I don’t know
Whether the breast cancer you contracted
Was caused by environmental degradation
Augmented by the toxic fumes
Of a vicious campaign against you.
Rachel, my brave and fragile,
My wise and farsighted lady,
We only know that you died
Of a heart attack.
Paul Hartal's Other Poems
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