Gary Snyder Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Gary Snyder has stated that, “As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic; the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying Initiation and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe.” Consider how each of these concepts can be applied to a specific poem.

Snyder believes that “the rhythms of my poems follow the rhythms of the physical work I’m doing.” Discuss the ways in which the variety of rhythmic patterns in Snyder’s poetry help to develop the mood and tone of a poem.

Snyder has said that his intention in Mountains and Rivers Without End was to break down “the limit between the psychic and the physical.” How does this inform individual sections of the poem?

In “What You Should Know to Be a Poet,” Snyder lists “all you can about animals as persons.” Examine the ways in which he establishes a correspondence between human and animal nature in his work.

In explaining his goals, Snyder has proclaimed, “In a visionary way, what we want poetry to do is guide lovers toward ecstasy, give witness to the dignity of old people, intensify human bonds, elevate the community and improve the public spirit.” Identify poems that accomplish each of these tasks, and show how they do this.

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Gary Snyder’s pioneering journal of personal environmental discovery, Earth House Hold: Technical Notes and Queries to Fellow Dharma Revolutionaries (1969), was an invitation to examine the treasures of the planet and to consider how it might be employed for the benefit of all living species. It represents the culmination of the work Snyder began nearly two decades before when he conceived of a major in literature and anthropology at Reed College, and its somewhat tentative, propositional format expresses the spirit of a movement that recognized the destructive aspects of modern industrial society and sought alternative approaches to the questions of planetary survival. Although Snyder was sometimes referred to disparagingly as “a kind of patron saint of ecology” by critics trapped in more conventional social arrangements, his interest in the environment has proved to be as perceptive and enduring as his best poetry, and the publication of The Practice of the Wild (1990) has deepened the context of his interests, offering the wisdom and experience of a lifetime spent living in and thinking about the natural world. The book is a linked series of reflective essays, and its amiable, reasonable tone—similar to Snyder’s conversational voice in his interviews, most notably those collected in The Real Work: Interviews and Talks, 1964-1979 (1980)—permits the power of his intellectual insights, his scholarly investigations, and his political theories to reach an audience beyond the experts he hopes to equal in his argument. Combining energetic conviction and poetic eloquence, Snyder’s essays are intended to be a “genuine teaching text” and “a mediation on what it means to be human.” They demonstrate his philosophy of composition as it reveals a poetics of existence and have been written to stimulate “a broad range of people and provide them with historical, ecological and personal vision.” A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds (1995) continues his exploration of these concerns, which are summarized and extended in Back on the Fire: Essays (2007).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Before “ecology” had become a password of political correctness, Gary Snyder was devising a program of study designed to create a language of environmental advocacy; after many trendy Westerners had long since recoiled from the rigors of Eastern thought, Snyder completed a curriculum of apprenticeship in Japan and went on to develop an American version of Zen applicable to his locality. As Native American life and lore gradually seeped into the area of academic interest, Snyder continued his examinations of the primal tribal communities that lived in harmony with the North American land mass for pre-Columbian millennia and worked to apply their successes to contemporary life. While hippies and dropouts returned to the button-down corporate culture after a brief dalliance with a counterculture, Snyder built his own home at the center of a small community that endures as an example of a philosophical position in action. Most of all, while some of the other voices that arose during the post-“Howl” renaissance of the new American poetry have become stale or quaint, Snyder’s use of a clear, direct, colloquial but literature-responsive language made it possible for his concerns to reach, touch, and move a substantial audience through his poetry.

Snyder’s varied interests have given him extensive material for his poems, but the appeal of his work does not depend on a program calculated to educate or persuade. Much more than argument, the poetry is an...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dean, Tim. Gary Snyder and the American Unconscious. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. An intelligent and careful reading of Snyder’s work, somewhat limited by an academic style and perspective.

Gray, Timothy. Gary Snyder and the Pacific Rim. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006. An interesting study of the poet, his work, and his counter-cultural place in literary history.

Halper, Jon, ed. Gary Snyder: Dimensions of a Life. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991. A semibiographical tribute in which sixty-five friends, fellow-workers, and members of Snyder’s family write about the poet and his work. Varying tremendously in quality and interest, there are many informative and revealing contributions by well-known (Allen Ginsberg, Ursula Le Guin) and unfamiliar individuals.

Molesworth, Charles. Gary Snyder’s Vision: Poetry and the Real Work. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983. An intellectually adept, stylishly written, and perceptive study of Snyder’s writing through the early 1980’s.

Murphy, Patrick, ed. Critical Essays on Gary Snyder. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. A comprehensive, well-chosen collection of critical essays by one of Snyder’s most intelligent critics. Ranging from the earliest responses to the poet’s work through three...

(The entire section is 544 words.)