The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations

The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations

by Gary Snyder


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The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations by Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder has been a major cultural force in America for five decades—prize-winning poet, environmental activist, Zen Buddhist, earth-householder, and reluctant counterculture guru. Having expanded far beyond the Beat scene that first brought his work to the public ear and eye, Snyder has produced a broad-ranging body of work that encompasses his fluency in Eastern literature and culture, his commitment to the environment, and his concepts of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

Prose selections include journals from his travels to Saigon, Singapore, Kyoto, Ceylon, New Delhi, and Dharamshala; key interviews from the East West Journal and The Paris Review, meditations on Buddhism and the surrender of self; a cultural survey of communal living; and notes from the lookout tower on Sourdough Mountain, where in stark isolation Snyder once watched for forest fires.

The Reader gathers poems from each phase of Snyder’s long career—from his fist collection, Riprap, to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Turtle Island, through his epic poem cycle that was forty years in the making, Mountains and Rivers Without End.

From freighter to firetower, Zendo to Himalayan mountain ridge, Snyder’s writings reflect a lifetime of study, journey, and the practice of everyday mindfulness. Gary Snyder has witnessed and captured our culture at the hinge of change and—time and again—his work has transformed us just as it has altered our understanding of literature and place in a purposeful life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781619020627
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 10/16/2012
Pages: 640
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.90(d)

Read an Excerpt



Lookout's Journal

A. Crater Mountain

22 June 52   Marblemount Ranger Station
               Skagit District, Mt. Baker National Forest

Hitchhiked here, long valley of the Skagit. Old cars parked in the weeds,
little houses in fields of bracken. A few cows, in stumpland.

Ate at the "parkway café" real lemon in the pie
            "—why don't you get a jukebox in here"
            "—the man said we weren't important enough"

* * *

28 June

Blackie Burns:

"28 years ago you could find a good place to fish.

       tin cans, beer bottles, dirty dishes
       a shit within a foot of the bed
one sonuvabitch out of fifty
fishguts in the creek
the door left open for the bear.
If you're takin forestry fellas keep away
from the recreation side of it:
first couple months you see the women you say
            'there's a cute little number'
the next three months it's only another woman
after that you see one coming out of the can
            & wonder if she's just shit on the floor

ought to use pit toilets"

* * *

Granite creek Guard station 9 July

the boulder in the creek never moves
           the water is always falling

A ramshackle little cabin built by Frank Beebe the miner.
Two days walk to here from roadhead.
            arts of the Japanese: moon-watching

Reading the sutra of Hui Nêng.

one does not need universities and libraries
one need be alive to what is about

saying "I don't care"

* * *

11 July

cut fresh rhubarb by the bank
the creek is going down
last night caught a trout
today climbed to the summit of Crater Mountain and back
high and barren: flowers I don't recognize
ptarmigan and chicks, feigning the broken wing.

Baxter: "Men are funny, once I loved a girl
so bad it hurt, but I drove her away. She was
throwing herself at me—and four months later she
married another fellow."

A doe in the trail, unafraid.
A strange man walking south
A boy from Marblemount with buckteeth, learning machine shop.

* * *

Crater Mountain Elevation: 8049 feet 23 July

Really wretched weather for three days now—wind, hail, sleet, snow; the
FM transmitter is broken / rather the receiver is / what can be done?

   Even here, cold foggy rocky place, there's life—4 ptarmigan by the
A-frame, cony by the trail to the snowbank.

hit my head on the lamp,
the shutters fall, the radio quits,
the kerosene stove won't stop, the wood stove
won't start, my fingers are too numb to write.

& this is mid-July. At least I have energy enough to read science-fiction.
One has to go to bed fully clothed.

* * *

The stove burning wet wood—windows misted over giving the blank
white light of shoji. Outside wind blows, no visibility. I'm filthy with
no prospect of cleaning up. (Must learn yoga-system of Patanjali—)

* * *

Crater Shan 28 July

    Down for a new radio, to Ross Lake, and back up. Three days walking.
Strange how unmoved this place leaves one; neither articulate nor
worshipful; rather the pressing need to look within and adjust the mechanism
of perception.

A dead sharp-shinned hawk, blown by the wind against the lookout.
Fierce compact little bird with a square head.

—If one wished to write poetry of nature, where an audience?
Must come from the very conflict of an attempt to articulate the vision
poetry & nature in our time.

(reject the human; but the tension of
human events, brutal and tragic, against
a nonhuman background? like Jeffers?)

* * *

Pair of eagles soaring over Devil's Creek canyon

* * *

31 July

This morning:
              floating face down in the water bucket
        a drowned mouse.

"Were it not for Kuan Chung, we should be wearing our hair unbound and our
clothes buttoning on the left side"

A man should stir himself with poetry
Stand firm in ritual
Complete himself in music
                         Lun Yü

* * *

Comparing the panoramic Lookout View photo dated 8 August 1935:
with the present view. Same snowpatches; same shapes. Year after year;
snow piling up and melting.

"By God" quod he, "for pleynly, at a word
Thy drasty ryming is not worth a tord."

* * *

Crater Shan 3 August

How pleasant to squat in the sun
Jockstrap & zoris

form—leaving things out at the right spot
ellipse, is emptiness
                      these ice-scoured valleys
                      swarming with plants
     "I am the Queen Bee!
                         Follow Me!"

* * *

Or having a wife and baby,
   living close to the ocean, with skills for
   gathering food.


Higgins to Pugh (over)
   "the wind comes out of the east
   or northeast,
   the chimney smokes all over the room.
   the wind comes out of the west;
   the fire burns clean."

Higgins L.O. reads the news:
   "flying saucer with a revolving black band
   drouth in the south.
Are other worlds watching us?"
The rock alive, not barren.
   flowers lichen pinus albicaulis chipmunks
mice even grass.

—first I turn on the radio
—then make tea & eat breakfast
—study Chinese until eleven

—make lunch, go chop snow to melt for water,
read Chaucer in the early afternoon.

"Is this real
Is this real
This life I am living?"
              —Tlingit or Haida song

* * *

"Hidden Lake to Sourdough"
—"This is Sourdough"
—"Whatcha doing over there?"
—"Readin some old magazines
            they had over here."

* * *

6 August

    Clouds above and below, but I can see Kulshan, Mt. Terror, Shuksan;
they blow over the ridge between here and Three-Fingered Jack, fill up
the valleys. The Buckner Boston Peak ridge is clear.

    What happens all winter; the wind driving snow; clouds—wind, and

this is what always happens here,

and the photograph of a young female torso hung in the lookout window,
in the foreground. Natural against natural, beauty.

        two butterflies
a chilly clump of mountain

zazen non-life. An art: mountain-watching.

leaning in the doorway whistling
         a chipmunk popped out

* * *

9 August

Sourdough: Jack, do you know if a fly is an electrical conductor? (over)
Desolation: A fly? Are you still trying to electrocute flies? (over)
Sourdough: Yeah I can make em twitch a little. I got five number
   six batteries on it (over)
Desolation: I don't know, Shubert, keep trying. Desolation clear.

* * *

10 August

First wrote a haiku and painted a haiga for it; then repaired the Om
Mani Padme Hum prayer flag, then constructed a stone platform, then
shaved down a shake and painted a zenga on it, then studied the lesson.

      a butterfly
            scared up from its flower
caught by the wind and swept over the cliffs

Vaux Swifts: in great numbers, flying before the storm, arcing so
close that the sharp wing-whistle is heard.

                         "The sravaka
disciplined in Tao, enlightened, but on the wrong path."
             on the west slopes creek beds are brushy
             north-faces of ridges, steep and
                   covered late with snow

slides and old burns on dry hills.

(In San Francisco: I live on the Montgomery Street drainage—at the top
of a long scree slope just below a cliff.)

* * *

sitting in the sun in the doorway
picking my teeth with a broomstraw
listening to the buzz of the flies.





Mid-August at
Sourdough Mountain Lookout

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Piute Creek

One granite ridge
A tree, would be enough
Or even a rock, a small creek,
A bark shred in a pool.
Hill beyond hill, folded and twisted
Tough trees crammed
In thin stone fractures
A huge moon on it all, is too much.
The mind wanders. A million
Summers, night air still and the rocks
Warm. Sky over endless mountains.
All the junk that goes with being human
Drops away, hard rock wavers
Even the heavy present seems to fail
This bubble of a heart.
Words and books
Like a small creek off a high ledge
Gone in the dry air.

A clear, attentive mind
Has no meaning but that
Which sees is truly seen.
No one loves rock, yet we are here.
Night chills. A flick
In the moonlight
Slips into Juniper shadow:
Back there unseen
Cold proud eyes
Of Cougar or Coyote
Watch me rise and go.

Milton by Firelight
Piute Creek, August 1955

"O hell, what do mine eyes
           with grief behold?"
Working with an old
Singlejack miner, who can sense
The vein and cleavage
In the very guts of rock, can
Blast granite, build
Switchbacks that last for years
Under the beat of snow, thaw, mule-hooves.
What use, Milton, a silly story
Of our lost general parents,
          eaters of fruit?

The Indian, the chainsaw boy,
And a string of six mules
Came riding down to camp
Hungry for tomatoes and green apples.
Sleeping in saddle-blankets
Under a bright night-sky
Han River slantwise by morning.
Jays squall
Coffee boils

In ten thousand years the Sierras
Will be dry and dead, home of the scorpion.
Ice-scratched slabs and bent trees.
No paradise, no fall,
Only the weathering land
The wheeling sky,
Man, with his Satan
Scouring the chaos of the mind.
Oh Hell!

Fire down
Too dark to read, miles from a road
The bell-mare clangs in the meadow
That packed dirt for a fill-in
Scrambling through loose rocks
On an old trail
All of a summer's day

Above Pate Valley

We finished clearing the last
Section of trail by noon,
High on the ridge-side
Two thousand feet above the creek
Reached the pass, went on
Beyond the white pine groves,
Granite shoulders, to a small
Green meadow watered by the snow,
Edged with Aspen—sun
Straight high and blazing
But the air was cool.
Ate a cold fried trout in the
Trembling shadows. I spied
A glitter, and found a flake
Black volcanic glass—obsidian—
By a flower. Hands and knees
Pushing the Bear grass, thousands
Of arrowhead leavings over a
Hundred yards. Not one good
Head, just razor flakes
On a hill snowed all but summer,
A land of fat summer deer,
They came to camp. On their
Own trails. I followed my own
Trail here. Picked up the cold-drill,
Pick, singlejack, and sack
Of dynamite.
Ten thousand years.

Hay for the Horses

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
        behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
        sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
—The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."


Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
           placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
           in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
           riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
           straying planets,
These poems, people,
           lost ponies with
Dragging saddles
           and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
           ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
           a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
           with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
           all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

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