(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Regarding Wave,” the title poem in Snyder’s remarkable 1969 collection of verse, contains references to Asian religion at the very beginning and end. The chief wonder of the poem, however, is more in the ways it performs, rather than alludes to, its religious and ecological ideas.

The title expresses in two simple words a large range of ideas that Snyder explores in the essay “Poetry and the Primitive” in Earth House Hold. According to that essay, in Indo-European etymology the word “yak” is the name of the Muse-like wife of the Hindu god Brahma, and it is also the common root of the words “voice,” “wife,” “wave,” and “vibration.” Snyder considers his shamanic act of allowing a voice to flow through his poems to be analogous both to the act of making love to his wife and to the waves (the myriad rhythms, breaths, pulses, and vibrations) of natural processes that are flowing through a healthy ecosystem. The phrase “regarding wave” refers to an act of reciprocal and simultaneous perception that involves poet, wife, and world.

The opening lines of the poem call the reader to attention—attention to the waves of physical and spiritual energy that are moving like music through every being and object at every moment. “Dharma” in this context means “divine law”:

The voice of the Dharma   the voice    nowA shimmering bell  through all.. . . . . . .Every hill, still.Every tree alive. Every leaf.All the slopes flow.  old woods, new seedlings,. . . . . . . . . . .Dark hollows; peaks of light.. . . . . . . . . .Each leaf living.   All the hills.

The words are simple, but the rhythms are subtle and powerful. Snyder makes language sing through many musical repetitions of words and syntax (such as “the voice” and “every”), by approximate and exact rhymes (“bell” and “all,” “hill” and “still,” “all” and “hill”), by assonance and consonance (“slopes,” “flow,” and “old”; “alive” and “every”; “each leaf”), and by alliteration (“leaf living”). The imagery of landscape (of “hollows,” “slopes,” and “hills”) also refers to the contours of his wife’s body, and it ties into a circular movement back to a reference to the voice from the beginning of the poem: “The Voice/ is a wife/ to/ him still.” “Regarding Wave” is a moving and profound lyric, a ringing poem near the center of one of Snyder’s most resonant collections.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Almon, Bert. Gary Snyder. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1979.

Altieri, Charles. Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American Poetry During the 1960’s. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1979.

Dean, Tim. Gary Snyder and the American Unconscious. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Halper, Jon. Gary Snyder: Dimensions of a Life. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991.

Molesworth, Charles. Gary Snyder’s Vision: Poetry and the Real Work. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983.

Steubing, Bob. Gary Snyder. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

Suiter, John. Poets on the Peaks. New York: Counterpoint, 2002.