Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

At the center of the poem’s meaning is Smokey’s “great Mantra,” which is a vow of loyalty to the environment and against those who would destroy it: “I DEDICATE MYSELF TO THE UNIVERSAL DIAMOND—/ BE THIS RAGING FURY DESTROYED.” The sky, mountains, wilderness, rivers, and wildlife all must be protected. Under this protection are also “Gods and animals, hoboes and madmen, prisoners and sick people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children.” To be opposed are “wasteful freeways and needless suburbs.” The threat of “advertising, air pollution, or the police,” the blight of “cars, houses, canned food, universities, and shoes” must also be counteracted. “Smokey the Bear Sutra” is a declaration of opposition between the high-minded people believing in enlightened, harmonious inhabitation of the planet and “the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism.” Nevertheless, the opposition is not vicious or mean-spirited. The humor of the poem suggests the buoyant good spirit that can prevail in the protection of the environment.

Beyond this theme about the defense of the planet and an enlightened way of life, Snyder also makes several artistic statements in “Smokey the Bear Sutra.” By writing in an open form that resembles prose, he challenges the idea that poems must include standard poetic features, such as rhyme, meter, and figurative language. He further questions the doctrine that a poem should stand only as an...

(The entire section is 410 words.)