Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

After Turtle Island (1974) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for literature and stirred interest in Snyder’s work, fans and critics had to wait nine years for the publication of Axe Handles. In Turtle Island, Snyder challenges the reader with an apocalyptic vision of utter ecological catastrophe and urges a return to living with the rhythms of the Earth. Axe Handles. on the other hand, reflects on the spirituality of living in the moment and recognizes that cycles of change are long in coming and that the culture of change must be mediated across generations. Selling amazingly well for a book of poetry in the United States (more than thirty thousand copies in the first six months after publication), Axe Handles.proves that Snyder is a poet for the masses, not just the academic elite.

“True Night” was immediately hailed as the best poem of the volume. Robert Schultz and David Wyatt, noted in their 1986 essay, “Gary Snyder and the Curve of Return” in the Virginia Quarterly Review, that the poem aptly illustrates the “tension between the urge to be out and away and the need to settle and stay.” With Snyder a lifelong hiker and mountaineer, as well as a former Buddhist monk, the poem and the collection as a whole show what a settling effect middle age and a family had upon the poet.

In fact, Patrick Murphy in his monograph, Understanding Gary Snyder, discerns allegiance to kinship, community,...

(The entire section is 319 words.)