The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

“Wave” is composed of twenty-four lines in roughly four sections. The poem considers the essence of energy in the universe: The title refers to energy as it is manifested through the objects and forces in nature, for example, in a wave on the ocean. The poem also contains a central image of woman as a primary source of energy or life force in the universe. Beyond that, “Wave” is a meditation on the wonder of spiritual energy as it flows through and manifests itself in the poet’s own mind.

The poet begins by describing the various ways the effects of energy can be disclosed in the forms of natural objects such as clamshells, the wood grain of trees that have been cut in two by saws, and “sand-dunes, lava/ flow.” As the poem continues, the poet seems to be seeking to understand the very source of all energy.

The second section begins with the lines, “Wave wife./ woman—wyfman,” which are a reference to energy as mother or as female force, the sacred source of being in the universe. “Wyf” is an Anglo-Saxon word that is the root word for both wave and wife. Woman is described in the third line as “veiled; vibrating; vague.” The words “veiled” and “vague” refer to her mysterious nature. “Vibrating” refers to the kinetic power of natural forces, which in the following line, set “sawtooth ranges pulsing.”

Images of energy as manifested in the natural world continue. The poet enumerates: “great dunes rolling/ Each inch rippled, every grain a wave.” It is as though the existence of each grain of sand were a confirmation of the creative energy that formed it and placed it in the rippled dune.

Gary Snyder continues in the poem to consider natural forces and their effects on objects in the world. The wind, a force with metaphorical even spiritual associations, blows through thick, thorned shrubbery, shaking the same branches, which at times, catch and trap the poet. The thickets described may refer to the tangle of thoughts in the poet’s own mind.

In the final section, which is itself almost a poem within the poem, Snyder addresses the “radiating wyf” as a primal source of energy linking all of the images in the poem. The poem concludes with a prayerlike request for the primal energy of the universe (nature) to catch and “fling” the poet free to ride the unique waves of his own consciousness. As a result, the poet will be opened to the dance of the “things,” ideas, and poems of his mind, and will merge with the energy of the universe.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 264

“Wave” is written in free verse with no regular metrical pattern. Instead, the poem depends on shifts in cadence and concrete imagery for its effects. The poem is structured to seem unstructured. The first section begins with a stream of words and phrases, which via concrete images, delivers a flow of realizations about the nature of energy.

“Woman,” “wyf,” “wave,” is the image that unites and gives a focal point for the manifestations of energy. “Wave” or “wyf,” as radiating power and as the female principle, is both life-giver and unifier. The effects of energy can be seen in marble streaks, pine bark, and solidified lava. In fact, the essence of energy is itself invisible unless felt or manifested through the movement or transformation of matter. Thus these images give testament to the mysterious power of energy and serve to organize the poem.

The unexpected line breaks and the way the poem leaps about have the effect of arousing the reader’s curiosity. There...

(This entire section contains 264 words.)

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is no monotonous plodding verse form to slow one down. At times, “Wave” almost seems like an uncontrolled, stream-of-consciousness reverie. The line, “sometimes I get stuck in the thickets,” reads like a casual offstage remark, as if the poet were talking to himself.

Snyder’s use of woman as the unifying metaphor in “Wave” affirms his devotion to the female as sacred life-giver. In fact, he dedicates the collection Regarding Wave to his wife, Masa. The energy-as-female principle is not only the woman-wife of the poem, but more deeply the origin and impetus of everything, including the poet’s voice.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 86

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.