Last Updated on June 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1003
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.)
The poetry of Gary Snyder is monotonous, flat and superficial, and probably for those reasons is much esteemed by a variety of people, most of them very young. He is even admired by a few intelligent critics like Professor Thomas Parkinson of Berkeley….
I do not doubt that a number of Snyder's texts are treasured as sacred books, but precisely by those who do not care, at least about poetry as an art form. Snyder's most recent, and best publicized volume tells us all we need to know about his poetry, and the concerns of his disciples. The Back Country is a collection of generally brief lyrics covering Snyder's characteristic themes, and written over a period of roughly fifteen years. Reflected in these poems are Snyder's love of the West Coast, especially the rugged mountain country where, presumably, a man can be a man and smoke Marlboro and learn all about woodlore…. More important, though, is Snyder's long familiarity with the Orient, and his consequent love of all things orientally exotic, including Japanese place-names, family names and the names of dishes most Americans will not recognize. Predictably, Snyder's things and places are for him simply guideposts in what the poet obviously considers a vast spiritual journey, one that is to permit him to engage and transcend the realities of civilization and evoke the superiority of wilderness and humble orient. The trouble is that Snyder never really shows us why the one ought to be recommended over the other—the contexts in which sensations and impressions are evoked are patently unreal and unelaborated, in the nature of still-life water colors or "washes." All one can think of when thinking back on a Snyder poem is a blur of pine trees, lazy grasses and faint sounds of bells and chants and bird cries emanating from temples and the reaches of the night….
Snyder's commitments, while very likely sincere, are grossly superficial, and his evocations of them at best programmistic and facile. His poetry can be appealing only to those who know what to expect and are prepared to read the poetry in such a way that it will support those vague and formless projects that are their lives.
Robert Boyers, in Partisan Review (copyright © 1969 by Partisan Review, Inc.), No. 2, 1969, pp. 311-13.
[Snyder] searches and finds value in earth and man….
Regarding Wave is a tactile, sensual book. The body of man and woman, the body of earth, riverbeds and the places of love—these are some of his subjects, hard sometimes to tell apart, maybe not really separate at all….
Gary Snyder has a most subtle ear. These seeming free-verse poems are full of delicate rhymes and juxtapositions as well as supple linkages of vowels. The corporeal elements of the words give substance to the conceptions, hold the poems together as the poems do the world….
This is the kind of book that makes one want to make love to someone one loves. It dexterously blends physical and spiritual.
Dan Jaffe, "A Shared Language in the Poet's Tongue," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1971 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, April 3, 1971; used with permission), April 3, 1971, pp. 31-3, 46.
Snyder is probably the most influential—on the young—poet of his generation—influential as a poet on new poets, that is. Ginsberg is still the charismatic leader. Snyder is the best informed, most thoughtful, and most articulate of his colleagues. He has a perfectly clear, carefully thought out life philosophy in which the ecological concept of all life as community, the mutual aid of Kropotkin, the Buddhist love and respect for all sentient creatures, and the primitive animist's organic identification with living things are merged into a coherent and readily negotiable pattern, completely relevant to the contemporary situation, a new ethic, a new esthetic, a new life style which is emerging amongst artists, writers, musicians, and the youth for whom they speak as Western Civilization enters its period of final breakdown. Snyder is also an accomplished technician who has learned from the poetry of several languages and who has developed a sure and flexible style capable of handling any material he wishes.
Kenneth Rexroth, in his American Poetry in the Twentieth Century (copyright © 1971 Herder and Herder, Inc.; used by permission of the publisher, The Seabury Press, New York), Herder, 1971, p. 177.
Gary Snyder's Regarding Wave is excellent. Reviewers have already drawn attention to the increased suppleness of his style, to his loosened rhythms and diction. I was impressed by these, but even more by his fidelity to certain values, and to the world as he sees it. He has not tried to "make it" or adapt his style to a certain audience or magazine; the pursuit of success, which disfigures much otherwise excellent poetry, does not disfigure his.
His dominant theme is the whole, its relation to all its parts and vice versa….
The relatedness of all things is a cliché in Western civilization, where it is known as the Chain of Being, but it is reinvigorated with an Eastern admixture in Snyder's poetry. And Gary Snyder gives the curious impression of being always outdoors—or he creates the illusion that, even when he is indoors, he never stops being also outdoors….
Each poem has a minimum of relationships within itself which refer to each other. There is no cleverness, exhibitionism, or loveliness for its own sake. The poems refer directly outward, to the world; in this sense traditional "craftsmanship" and hypotaxis are lacking, intentionally so, in favor of another craftsmanship which is rarely taught. It is the fidelity to a sense of the world which makes this poetry so valuable. It is profoundly unsolipsistic…. Gary Snyder's poems are marvellously undefensive, generous, and contain much joy.
John R. Carpenter, "Revalues," in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), June, 1972, pp. 164-69.
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