Mountains and Rivers Without End Essay - Critical Essays

Gary Snyder

Mountains and Rivers Without End

In 1956, the same year he participated in the historic reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco where Allen Ginsberg introduced “Howl,” Gary Snyder began a long poetic sequence inspired by and organized around the form of the Chinese and Japanese scroll painting. Already an avid mountain explorer and serious beginning student of Asian culture, Snyder felt that he could express some of the things he found fascinating in the endless, shifting tableaus of earth, water, and sky of the Western Pacific mountains where he grew up by following the form of the panels in Asian landscape painting. Without a specific plan for the conclusion of what he envisioned as a kind of epic in the spirit of Ezra Pound’s CANTOS (1920’s-1970) or Walt Whitman’s SONG OF MYSELF (1855), Snyder wrote seven parts of the poem in the 1960’s, publishing them separately in journals while he continued his other work as a poet, essayist, environmental activist, and zen student.

As his prominence and influence as a major American writer increased during the succeeding decades, he continued to work on this project while actively involved in other social and artistic endeavors. MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS WITHOUT END became more ordered as his conception advanced, but its actual sections appeared relatively infrequently. Snyder had the opportunity to view many of the scroll paintings he had read about during the 1980’s, as well as to visit some major urban centers which he brought...

(The entire section is 517 words.)