Last Updated on June 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1164
Snyder, Gary 1930–
An American poet in the Beat-Buddhist tradition, Snyder is the author of Riprap and Six Sections from Mountains and Rivers without End. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)
[Snyder] has become a legend for several reasons: first, he is not merely interested in Buddhism but has studied Japanese and Chinese so thoroughly that he is fluent in conversational Japanese and translates easily from both languages. When he taught freshman English at Berkeley for a year, he was vaguely troubled by the problem of fitting Andrew Marvell's "The Garden" into the history of Chinese poetry. The western world with its dualisms and antinomies he has made alien to himself. His knowledge of Zen Buddhism is not that of a dilettante but, insofar as this is possible for an occidental, of an adept…. Second, he is skilled in the use of his hands. If he were put down in the most remote wilderness with only a pocket knife, he would emerge from it cheerfully within two weeks, full of fresh experience, and with no loss of weight. There is a physical, intellectual, and moral sturdiness to him that is part of each movement he makes and each sentence he phrases. He is gracious, soft-spoken, incisive, and deeply intelligent. Third, he is an extraordinarily skillful poet, and his work develops steadily toward more thorough and profound insight. If there has been a San Francisco renaissance, Snyder is its Renaissance Man: scholar, woodsman, guru, artist, creatively maladjusted, accessible, open, and full of fun….
Along with Creeley and Lowell, [Snyder] is a primary influence on the writing of young people now, though as a spiritual rather than technical force. His voice is so clear and firm that it is fatally easy to imitate, so that the Gary Snyder poem that his apprentices discover and write has a certain mechanical quality—a reference to Coyote or Bear, a natural (preferably wilderness) setting, erotic overtones, plain colloquial language, firm insistence on an objective imagery, an anecdotal frame, short lines modeled on the Chinese Cantos of Ezra Pound with much internal rhyme and alliteration, very little dead weight (the prepositional phrase held in abomination). The sources of the style are Pound and Rexroth, Pound technically, Rexroth for general political orientation and stress on beach and high country….
The Six Sections from Mountains and Rivers without End have the mark of Snyder's style, the same tough placement of words in an order that makes the language articulate. There is in this book a kind of boyishness that is engaging but not up to the best of his possibilities. Simplicity should not seem, as it does in so complex a poet, an affectation. What most tempts Snyder is the anecdotal mode, the candid snapshot, the reduction of perception to objects merely, wondering at the simple….
Snyder has already written, published, read aloud, and generally made available a large and remarkable body of work. He is distinguished not only as poet but as prose expositor—he has a gift for quiet, untroubled, accurate observation with occasional leaps to genuine eloquence. He has taken to himself a subject matter, complex, vast, and permanently interesting, a subject so compelling that it is not unreasonable to assert that he has become a center for a new set of cultural possibilities.
Thomas Parkinson, "The Poetry of Gary Snyder," in The Southern Review, Vol. IV, No. 3, Summer, 1968, pp. 616-32.
Snyder's poetry embraces Whitman and moves on to sing of life in the Far East as well as in the West. Readers familiar with Snyder's … collection, The Back Country, will know the poet's love for all aspects of the life-work. Snyder writes of his experiences as a fire-tower look out, his work as a lumberjack, and his years in Kyoto.
John Hall, in Mediterranean Review, Spring, 1971, pp. 33-4.
[The] unique power and value of Snyder's poetry lies not simply in clearly articulated images or in complex patterns of sound and rhythm, but rather in the freedom, the openness of spirit that permits the poems simply to be what they are, what they can be…. The poems grow out of experience (perception, thought, feeling, action) and into words. The forms are organic in (I believe) Creeley's sense of growing from within, like a tree. They respond to the rhythms of the world…. First things first. Snyder's poems flow out of life and they end in silence. The poetry rushes in to fill the silence.
Halvard Johnson, "Living on the Home Planet," in Minnesota Review, Fall, 1971, pp. 127-28.
[Regarding Wave] is song after song of praise—every line a miracle of how bright the tarnished old English language is when called to the service of absolutely fresh perception, each separate sense sharp, unjaded, going out and into the sources, the clear running streams, with joy and humor. Snyder's poems usually spring from clearly identified spots of space in time, often bear a date-line or a note of the town or island or ranch of origin. But the heart of the poem is often the awareness of how far these dimensions extend….
For all the sensitive participation in oriental consciousness, Snyder remains very close to the main current of American writing, as it flows through Thoreau and Melville, in this acute awareness of topography and the loom of time….
This is really a remarkable book, a treasure. The poems sing with clarity, dance with health. They create their own tradition.
Marion Kingston Stocking, in Beloit Poetry Journal, Fall-Winter, 1971–72, p. 68.
I feel that Snyder … is one of the poets whom the young enormously overrate, perhaps because they fear complexity.
G. S. Fraser, in Partisan Review, Winter, 1971–72, p. 478.
[If] Allen Ginsberg was the Beat Generation's Walt Whitman, then Gary Snyder was its Henry David Thoreau. Or, to put it even more emphatically, Snyder is the present generation's Thoreau, for far from diminishing, his popular influence has increased over the last ten years. It would be wrong to speak of him in the past tense; as a poet, he is better known and more widely respected today than any other associated with the Beat movement….
Gary Snyder has become a sort of prophet of the essential in human life, and in his own way a great liberator, too. His concern with ecology and the physical environment of America—to cite an important example—is not just fashionably recent. It is and has been as fundamental to his own thought and expression as it was to Thoreau's a hundred years before….
[Snyder] is one of the very few American contemporary poets who can speak with authority about wisdom. For he seems to possess it to some degree himself. There is a plain-speaking quality to his poetry that suggests this. The large thoughts and bold statements of his essays certainly support it. And a face-to-face encounter with him leaves no doubt.
Bruce Cook, in his The Beat Generation (reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons from The Beat Generation by Bruce Cook; © 1971 Bruce Cook), Scribner's, 1971, pp. 28-31.
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