Sonnet IV. Cleve Backster

whose work on plant perception gained wide exposure in the 1973 publication The Secret Life of Plants.

While people claim the fetus has no being
Worth enough to trump a mother’s rights,
There’s something more our human eyes aren’t seeing:
Life’s more, not less, when we adjust our sights.

The year abortion gained the courts’ accord,
He told the world that plants have in their souls
Emotions—lie detectors can record—
Perceptions, feelings, interactive roles.

But ambled in the scoffing scientists
Who said “great claims require great evidence,”
And failed to see that unseen life resists
Control that gives us humans confidence.

The greatest confidence should be in life;
It’s not something to doubt, but that is rife.


Sonnet V. Katy Mantyk

a New York singer-songwriter originally from New Zealand

She looked at Heaven in the vast sunset
And asked the Maker to make known the Way.
Indeed, within a year she rode some jet
Engines far from her home’s lush island bay

To where the grime and urine soak each street.
Here she’d been called to spread what’s sacred, true,
And beautiful; and (worse yet) to compete
For souls so lost class struggle’s all they knew.

Then when each method seemed to fail or die out,
She heard a sound that echoed deep inside
And with reverberating power, fly out,
Like Pegasus who forward can’t but ride.

Thus, with her song she tramples ugliness
And brings a harmony to this world’s mess.



Evan Mantyk is President of the Society and teaches English literature and history in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

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17 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    Dear Evan –

    I have always believed that music and art can heal, and that plants have feeling; even thoughts. In my paintings I take it one step further, and, as Emmanuel Kant has said, accept that even inanimate objects have a knowledge of their own existence. This ties in with synesthesia, which tells us that some people sometimes have a crossover of the senses, and can, for instance, taste color and hear emotion. That is why my tables sometimes look as if they are about to walk away, and tiles in floors can appear to be in conflict, as if some tiles from an earlier time are arguing with a later version of themselves. I think Feng Shui ties in here at some point as well.

    I see that you have also considered these things, and am happy to see it in these poems.

    • Evan Mantyk

      Dear Sally,

      Thank you for your comments! It is indeed the case, as Shakespeare wrote, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Or to put it another way, there is simply a higher science, which current mainstream science is only scratching upon the way we might scrape a mountain with a boot. I would say genuine poets and artists, if there is such a thing, are already privy to its truths, whether consciously or unconsciously.

  2. Peter Hartley

    A fine couple of sonnets about two people I had hitherto never encountered and feel that I really ought to have done. “Great claims require great evidence” we read in the first, and surely the very greatest claim of any and the one most demanding incontestable proof is the assertion that nobody has either a life or entitlement to one before they are born, or that there exists some (man-dictated) sliding scale of prolicide between what is OK at conception to what nobody denies is murder after birth. And in the second poem can plants feel pain? We know they have, at least, fine sensation, but do they feel pain? I don’t think I want to know the answer to this, and then be made to feel guilty, possibly, every time I chew a mouthful of cabbage. The rhyming couplet of the second poem could apply equally to poetry. Poetry has so much power for good in this world but so many poets today seem to be more interested in describing the ugly things in life, ugly poems full of ugly thoughts clothed with ugly diction. Happily that does not apply to these two.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Peter, don’t worry about chewing cabbage. The claims that plants have feelings are exaggerated & inflated. They do have sensitivities, usually referred to as tropisms, but they have no central nervous system, and no brains (though their roots serve pretty much the same function in their own kingdom. That inanimate objects (such as minerals) have consciousness is on the one hand a goofy LSD induced delusion, and on the other hand is something taken very seriously by Anthroposophists, though such consiousness exists on a plane far away from the one in which we humans exist. I have even read in some Anthroposophical texts that grass likes to be walked on, probably preferring bare feet. It is now well known that plants pass on information to one another, usually through their roots and mediated by mycorrhizal organisms, but this is not the same thing as a thought.

    • Evan Mantyk

      Dear Mr. Hartley,

      Thank you for your comments and the interesting philosophical issue you raise. Indeed, it should be the case that great evidence is required to prove that the baby in the womb is not a living being worthy of protective rights, and it should be taken for granted that the degree of life found by an earnest, rational person, such as Backster, in the world may exceed what is readily observable, since, after all, the highest degree of a living being is the unscientifically verifiable (yet generally accepted to be present) God.

  3. C.B. Anderson

    Evan, I still have a copy of The Secret Life of Plants on my shelf. Perhaps it’s time to re-read it.

    In the first poem, stanza 1, line 3, you’ve gone tetrameter. I’m not sure that the dubious claims of plant-consciousness support a pro-life agenda, but I do believe that everything is interconnected and that there is something to the idea of a spiritus loci inhabiting forests and other natural habitats.

    As for the second poem, I can’t help wondering: any relation? I’ve always supposed that “Mantyk” was eastern European in origin, but I can’t be sure, which is distressing. I’ve always liked being able to pinpoint European names to a nation, or at least to a language group. For instance, surnames ending with “-ian” are almost invariably Armenian. “-ski” & “-wicz” are usually Slavic, and “-ny” & “-dy” are generally Hungarian. Please fill me in. Incidentally, I followed the link and found the music entrancing. I especially liked the number from The Good Seeds, because I’m a glutton for well-executed harmony.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    Evan, I had a further thought: “Mantyk” might be Welsh, a language in love with the letter “Y.” This would also support “Evan.”

    • Sally Cook

      Hi, CB –
      Remember when the same editor told both of us that trees could not do this that and the other thing, and we had a lot of fun writing poems about what we thought they could do if so inclined? Lots of fun — do you still have some of yours? I do.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Sally, I’m not quite sure what editor it is to whom you advert, or what poems you have in mind, but I do believe in Ents.

  5. Evan Mantyk

    Dear Mr. Anderson,

    I have more than one reason to thank you for your above comments. First, I should probably clarify that I do not support some kind of insane perspective that would see people advocating for plant rights. I thought this went without saying, but in today’s world it wouldn’t surprise me on second thought. I eat plants of course, we all do, and I am not even a vegetarian for that matter. It is only that I see serious underlying philosophical issues with mainstream science, which simultaneously labeled Backster a quack and put the stamp of legitimacy on the wholesale killing of babies.
    Thank you for spotting the oversight on the meter (it has been fixed). I should run these poems by you first. Someone needs to edit the editor.

    Katy Mantyk, I’m proud to say, is my wife of 14 years and the mother of our two children. Originally she is a Cook like the famous Captain Cook and the famous Sally Cook.

    Mantyk is Polish. I’ve seen the “yk” more frequently on Russian names, so perhaps it goes further East.

    • Sally Cook

      Thanks, Evan, for the compliment. Famous? Not quite4 yet, but who knows, if I live long enough…..
      Just a note to Kip here, as the “reply” was left off his last post. Kip, I know you would recognize that editor’s name but don’t want to get either of us into trouble, so – enough said on that. But surely you must recall our tree poems Just checked – here are some of my titles inspired by that criticism:
      The Education Of Trees\The Man Who Loved Trees, Trees Listen, Trees Speak, Three Trees, etc. I believe at the time you were told that trees can’t make a church, and as I recall you had something to say about that! Evan, perhaps we ought to have a contest involving poems about trees?

      • C.B. Anderson

        Sally, I think I know now about which editor we’ve been talking around. Sometimes life is a savage thing.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    Evan, for a third time my extensive response has been derailed by some computer glitsch, and everything I’ve written erased. I give up. I had a lot to say, but I wrote in vain.

    • Evan Mantyk

      Kip, that is unfortunate. I sometimes will write a longer comment in a Word file for that reason and will copy and paste it into the comment box.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Evan, perhaps this time I can evade the computer demons. I think your marriage might be one of those proverbial ones made in heaven, for who else but another artist could live with someone committed to an aesthetic ideal? As it happens, I have long been at war with scientific orthodoxy, especially evolutionary science, despite the pontifications of persons such as Richard Dawkins. If we communicate privately, I could give you many references to sources that make evolutionary science look like a cheap brand of scientism.

    • Sally Cook

      KIP –
      Yes, your surmise as to the eitor is corrert. What a perfectly glorious moment in over-editing that was!!

      By the way, have you noticed that some of your comments have a “Reply” following them, while others do not? For a while I had a similar problem of disappearing comments; then it suddenly righted itself.

  7. James Sale

    I particularly like the second poem, and especially now I have actually met Katy Mantyk. She is a wonderfully gracious person and bringing harmony, I think, an aspect of her soul. I met her first at the Princeton Club, but that was a formal occasion; but when we had dinner at Mohonk, and there was so much laughter and fun, that was a sure sign of a great person. The second stanza, and the couplet – To where the grime and urine soak each street.
    Here she’d been called to spread what’s sacred, true, – are resonantly powerful.


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