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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Bath” illustrates how the experience of fatherhood has provided Snyder with new perspectives on the interrelationship between the bodies of humans and the ecological “body” of nature.

The poem begins with a vivid description of Snyder giving his older son, Kai, a bath in the sauna at their backwoods home. The poet’s mood is relaxed, yet also attentive to details of his son’s body and how that body relates to his own. When Snyder washes his son’s penis, it surprises him by becoming erect. Yet rather than becoming embarrassed or anxious, Snyder is amused and delighted:

Laughing and jumping, flinging arms around,   I squat all naked too,    is this our body?

These italicized words become a refrain throughout the poem: first “is this our body?,” then “this is our body” as Snyder’s wife, Masa, and his younger son, Gen, also become involved in the scene.

In the second stanza, Masa joins Snyder and Kai in the bath, and the poet draws a loving analogy between her body and that of the landscape where they make their home: “The body of my lady, the winding valley spine.” Snyder caresses and kisses his wife, acts which stimulate him to draw further imaginative connections among the sexual and nurturing powers of his family:

Kai’s little scrotum up close to his groin,  the seed still tucked away, that moved from  us to himIn flows that lifted with the same joys forces  as his nursing Masa later,  playing with her breast,Or me within her,Or him emerging.

Coming out of the bath, and out of the sauna enclosure, Snyder, Masa, and Kai enjoy a variety of nature’s sights, smells, and sounds. The poet’s use of personification (“murmuring gossip of the grasses,/ talking firewood”) further contributes to his theme that his family’s interrelated body is part of the larger interrelated body of nature. At the end of the poem, as he and his wife play with their children, Snyder brings the refrain into his domestic narrative; this theme is now firmly grounded in reality and no longer needs to be treated as a separate “cosmic” thought.

This is our body. Drawn up crosslegged by   the...

(The entire section is 535 words.)