Posts tagged ‘environmental poetry’

October 30, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Gary Snyder

by Melissa Harding

slip creek

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Gary Snyder is a writer of all types; not just a poet, he is also an activist, essayist and lecturer. As a child, Snyder was deeply connected to the Pacific Northwestern areas where he was raised and developed an increasingly strong and complex relationship with the natural world over the course of his life. Though as a contemporary of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg he is considered by some to be a Beat poet, he has handily transcended that early moniker through a lifelong study of Eastern religions, Japanese culture, anthropology, and ecology. Whether in spite of or because of this wide variety of influences, his work truly captures his sense of curiosity, affection and reverence for the natural world and the people who make their living on it. Not only that, but his words somehow manage to create that feeling in the reader. In an essay published in his collection A Controversy of Poets, he wrote, ” I try to hold both history and wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.”  Snyder’s poems take the reader all over the world, from coals mines to Japanese gardens and everywhere in between. Some of his descriptive, purposeful verses make reading his poems feel like diving into a deep lake; they are both refreshing and biting at the same time.

Meeting the Mountains

He crawls to the edge of the foaming creek
He backs up the slab ledge
He puts a finger in the water
He turns to a trapped pool
Puts both hands in the water
Puts one foot in the pool
Drops pebbles in the pool
He slaps the water surface with both hands
He cries out, rises up and stands
Facing toward the torrent and the mountain
Raises up both hands and shouts three times!
Snyder’s approach is straightforward and clear; he doesn’t write poems that are just about ecology, but rather the environment as a whole. He takes into account the buildings, the people, and how they relate the natural world that surrounds them. Snyder does not exclude people from his poems. Instead, he records the connection between humanity and nature.
Migration of Birds
It started just now with a hummingbird
Hovering over the porch two yards away
then gone.
It stopped my studying.
I saw the redwood post
Leaning in clod ground
Tangled n a bush of yellow flowers
Higher than my head, through which we push
Every time we come inside –
The shadow network of the sunshine
Through its vines. White-crowned sparrows
Make tremendous singing in the trees
The rooster down the valley crows and crows.
Jack Kerouac outside, behind my back
Reads the Diamond Suites in the sun.
Yesterday I read Migration of Birds;
The Golden Plover and the Arctic Tern.
Today that big abstraction’s at our door
For juncos and the robins all have left,
Broody scrabblers pick up bits of string
And in this hazy day
Of April summer heat
Across the hill the seabirds
Chase Spring north along the coast:
Nesting in Alaska
In six weeks.
Read a full biography of Gary Snyder and find selected poems here. Read more about Snyder’s views on the purpose of “environmental” poetry here.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above photo was taken by Jeff Harding.


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