(Poetry for Students)

Sense Perception and Consciousness
A life-long Buddhist, Gary Snyder spent many years living and studying Zen under various Japanese masters. Some schools of Zen seek to awaken “satori” or deep insight in their practitioners through “koans,” recursive logic puzzles, or paintings that depict states of consciousness along the path towards enlightenment. In the sixties, the Scottish folk-singer, Donovan, popularized one such series of Zen paintings that teach the nature of satori which such lyrics as, “First there is a mountain. Then there is no mountain. Then there is.” This progression of sense perceptions grounded in changing states of consciousness best exemplifies what Snyder is doing in this poem.

The poem opens with the narrator deep in the “sheath” of sleep, a state that wavers between total unconsciousness and the phantasms that dwell in the “dream womb” mentioned in line two. From outside this sleep realm “comes a clatter” from another mental state of sense perception, the so-called everyday reality.

Yet, this state of mind is itself multilayered. At first, the poet is angry that raccoons have disturbed him again and reaches for a stick to attack the culprits. Even when he succeeds in driving them from his house, he continues his tirade, chastising the intruders for violating his space, both physical and mental. At this level of consciousness, the poet sees himself as separate from and opposed to the...

(The entire section is 538 words.)