Poetry Monday – “For All” by Gary Snyder

Introducing a new OMK feature: Poetry Monday.  Every Monday we will bring you a poem that contains environmentalist sensibilities or a simple Love of Earth.  We will also introduce you to some of the poets that have shaped poetic discourse around questions of the human relationship with the land in various cultures.  [If you have a poem you’d like to share, feel free to submit it as a guest post.]

For the inaugural Poetry Monday, I bring you a poem by Gary Snyder–one of the foremost American environmentalist poets (he has been called “the poet laureate of Deep Ecology”), and also, coincidentally, one of the writers who has heavily influenced my own evolving environmental sensitivities.  When I was in high school, my dad suggested I read “Turtle Island” (which held a prominent place on his bookshelf), and I read through the collection over and over, profoundly moved by the deep connection Snyder felt to the landscapes he inhabited.  Last year I was lucky enough to hear Gary Snyder read some of his poems at a national writers’ conference; he was grandfatherly and warm.

Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco in 1930.  He grew up on farms on the West Coast and later lived in Japan where he studied Zen Buddhism.  He was involved with the Beat Poets and the San Francisco Renaissance.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975 and is considered one of the quintissential poets of the American West.  His poems are plain-spoken and straight-forward; he draws on his  experiences working as a logger, carpenter, forester, and in other outdoor professions to develop his insights on the spiritual nature of human interconnectedness with the land.

And now, with no further ado, the poem:

For All

Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of TurtleIsland,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.


5 responses to “Poetry Monday – “For All” by Gary Snyder

  1. mfranti June 27, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Oh Missy,

    I love this feature and I love this poem.

    I pledge allegiance to the soil
    of TurtleIsland,
    and to the beings who thereon dwell
    one ecosystem
    in diversity
    under the sun
    With joyful interpenetration for all.

    I hope you’ll be treating us to some of your poetry, too.

  2. TV Free June 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Beautiful. Thanks, Missy.

  3. Thomas Parkin June 28, 2011 at 1:36 am

    “With joyful interpenetration for all.”

    Does this mean that the various elements of the diversity eat each other?
    It can’t mean that the sun gets the same joy as the poet, not to mention the same degree of penetration!

    I suppose for me the joy in nature is the experience of a multitude of things that are not me. Things in nature may charge responses in me, but not because we are sharing a substance. The response in my being is not to interpenetration – I truthfully have no idea what that might mean – but rather augmentation of self through empathy. I’m a part of nature as a nascent wholeness, in and of and, ultimately, for myself. As Robinson Jeffers pointed out (again and again and again), it is the elements of nature that are whole. We do not share in that wholeness, except, potentially, as apprentices.

    I think Snyder won a Pulitzer for this book. But I’d have voted against him, if only for this line.

  4. missy. June 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Thomas Parkin- Thanks for your comment. You make some interesting points, and I share with you that joy of contacting “a multitude of things that are not me.”

    I assume that Snyder is using the word “interpenetration” in the same context that Buddhists use it (considering he was a student of Buddhism). Will you lose all respect for me if I quote wikipedia to succinctly explain the Buddhist concept of interpenetration? 🙂 Here:

    “The doctrine of “interpenetration” or “coalescence” (Wylie: zung-‘jug; Sanskrit: yuganaddha; Chinese: 通達)[23][24] comes from the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, a Mahāyāna scripture, and its associated schools. It holds that all phenomena (Sanskrit: dharmas) are intimately connected (and mutually arising). Two images are used to convey this idea. The first is known as Indra’s net. The net is set with jewels which have the extraordinary property that they reflect all of the other jewels. The second image is that of the world text. This image portrays the world as consisting of an enormous text which is as large as the universe itself. The words of the text are composed of the phenomena that make up the world. However, every atom of the world contains the whole text within it. It is the work of a Buddha to let out the text so that beings can be liberated from suffering. The doctrine of interpenetration influenced the Japanese monk Kūkai, who founded the Shingon school of Buddhism.”

    With this definition in mind, Snyder’s use of the word makes a lot of sense to me. The collective valuation of every element’s interconnectedness; the acknowledgement that if you look closely, the whole text is contained in every atom. I don’t think that this means that each element is subsumed by the whole (an idea that seemed to trouble you in your comment) although I do think it grants us higher status than mere apprentices. We are jewels in the net, too, caught up alongside salmon and quartz and wolves and fireflies.

  5. Winterbuzz June 29, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Ah, this is delicious. I look forward to this feature…. 🙂

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