“For Plants” is a meditation on the mythical and magical properties of certain psychoactive plants. The poem is written in free verse consisting of forty-two lines in roughly seven sections. Poets sometimes make lists of persons or places or things in poems. Gary Snyder uses this catalog form in “For Plants” to present several plants known since ancient times to possess medicinal or hallucinogenic properties. The effect of the rhythmic repetition of strange or exotic plant names in Snyder’s catalog is often like an incantation.
The poem begins with a four-line stanza that describes the gathering of psychedelic mushrooms. The stanza simply and effectively conveys the sense of mystery and power that surrounds the fungus. The image of an “ancient virgin” (perhaps a goddess or priestess) gathering magic mushrooms in a dark forest casts a meditative spell and draws the reader into the poem.
The next stanza is about peyote. In this stanza, there is no human involvement other than via the poet’s observation. The poet instead focuses on the cactus plant, which, like some natural gift or “dream-child bud,” is found “glowing in hollow desert.” The image of the peyote as childlike confers the qualities of innocence, purity, and even holiness upon this hallucinogenic substance. In fact, the poet refers to the peyote as “the holy baby.”
The following stanza addresses the thorn apple or datura in four short lines....
(The entire section is 475 words.)