Gary Snyder: Overview

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 1995
From: Contemporary Poets(6th ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,071 words

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Gary Snyder is an American West, Asian Far East poet and environmentalist, a highly literate primitive (he calls himself "archaic") who loves the world of the California Sierras, the American Indian, and Zen Buddhism. It is not an accident that Wendell Berry is a friend and fellow poet and environmentalist.

A characteristic example of Snyder's literate primitivism occurs in "Milton by Firelight," written in 1955, in which tension exists between the author of Paradise Lost and a single jack miner. Snyder sides with the miner:

What use, Milton, a silly story, Of our lost general parents, eaters of fruit? ... 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.

"The Bath" is one of the most attractive poems in The Back Country. In it Snyder celebrates exuberantly the pleasures of bathing his two small sons and his wife. The question is asked,

is this our body?                          and thrice the answer this is our body

The fourth answer is not italicized but begins the line:

This is our body.

The poem is a pleasant excursion into male-female difference and identity, a therapeutic exercise in accepting one's own body, a religious statement.

"The Bath" is properly republished in Turtle Island, the Indian name for what thousands of years later became known to the white man as America. This book, which won a Pulitzer prize in 1975, owes much to Eugene Odum, whose Fundamentals of Ecology appeared in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420007530