Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder was born on May 8, 1930 in San Francisco, California and is well known not only for his association with the Beat writers, but for his advocacy of community living and ecological concerns.

Much of his writing demonstrates the influence of the respected American poets, Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound, as well as intimations of mysticism exemplified in Far Eastern forms. His experiences as a logger and ranger in the Pacific Northwest were inspirations for his first two collections of poetry: Riprap (1959) and Myths and Texts (1960).

Many of his later works focus on alternatives to city living and show a reverence for nature and a deep interest in the philosophies of the East. The latter is a characteristic that seems an almost ubiquitous attribute possessed by many other Beat writers. Perhaps this quality respect and toleration for the world around oneself are what make these writers as interesting as they are accessible.

Snyder won the Pulitzer prize for his collection Turtle Island in 1975. In addition to the mentioned works, Snyder’s other volumes include: The Black Country (1967), Regarding Wave (1969), Axe Handles (1983) The Old Ways (1977) and No Nature: New and Selected Poems (1992). Currently, Snyder is a faculty member at the University of California at Davis.


How Poetry Comes to Me

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light


Axe Handles

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own
A broken off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with–”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature” — in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see Pound was an axe
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.


Hay For The Horses

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
–The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds —
“I’m sixty-eight” he said,
“I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.”


For All

Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.
Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.

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