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5-7-5 The Haiku of Basho

One of Gary's boyhood jobs was as a newspaper copy boy, also at the Oregonian. During his time at Reed, Snyder published his first poems in a student journal. In , he spent the summer working as a seaman. To get this job, he joined the now defunct Marine Cooks and Stewards union, [10] and would later work as a seaman in the mids to gain experience of other cultures in port cities. Snyder married Alison Gass in ; however, they separated after seven months, and divorced in He also encountered the basic ideas of Buddhism and, through its arts, some of the Far East's traditional attitudes toward nature.

He went to Indiana University with a graduate fellowship to study anthropology. He left after a single semester to return to San Francisco and to 'sink or swim as a poet'. His attempts to get another lookout stint in at the peak of McCarthyism , however, failed. He had been barred from working for the government, due to his association with the Marine Cooks and Stewards. Snyder's reading of the writings of D. Suzuki had in fact been a factor in his decision not to continue as a graduate-student in anthropology, and in he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to study Asian culture and languages.

He spent some months in and living in a cabin which he dubbed "Marin-an" outside Mill Valley, California with Jack Kerouac. Hasegawa introduced Snyder to the treatment of landscape painting as a meditative practice. This inspired Snyder to attempt something equivalent in poetry, and with Hasegawa's encouragement, he began work on Mountains and Rivers without End , which would be completed and published forty years later.


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Snyder met Allen Ginsberg when the latter sought Snyder out on the recommendation of Kenneth Rexroth. As the large majority of people in the Beat movement had urban backgrounds, writers like Ginsberg and Kerouac found Snyder, with his backcountry and manual-labor experience and interest in things rural, a refreshing and almost exotic individual.

This also marked Snyder's first involvement with the Beats, although he was not a member of the original New York circle, but rather entered the scene through his association with Kenneth Rexroth. As recounted in Kerouac's Dharma Bums , even at age 25 Snyder felt he could have a role in the fateful future meeting of West and East. Snyder's first book, Riprap , which drew on his experiences as a forest lookout and on the trail-crew in Yosemite, was published in Independently, some of the Beats, including Philip Whalen , had become interested in Zen , but Snyder was one of the more serious scholars of the subject among them, preparing in every way he could think of for eventual study in Japan.

In , the First Zen Institute of America offered him a scholarship for a year of Zen training in Japan, but the State Department refused to issue him a passport, informing him that "it has been alleged you are a Communist. Blyth had preceded him. He developed a friendship with Philip Yampolsky , who took him around Kyoto. He returned to California via the Persian Gulf, Turkey, Sri Lanka and various Pacific Islands, in , voyaging as a crewman in the engine room on the oil freighter Sappa Creek , [26] [27] and took up residence at Marin-an again.

In early June, he met the poet Joanne Kyger. She became his girlfriend, and eventually his wife. During the period between and , Snyder went back and forth between California and Japan, [33] studying Zen, working on translations with Ruth Fuller Sasaki, and finally living for a while with a group of other people on the small, volcanic island of Suwanosejima.

His previous study of written Chinese assisted his immersion in the Zen tradition with its roots in Tang Dynasty China and enabled him to take on certain professional projects while he was living in Japan. Snyder received the Zen precepts and a dharma name Chofu , "Listen to the Wind" , and lived sometimes as a de facto monk, but never registered to become a priest [33] and planned eventually to return to the United States to 'turn the wheel of the dharma'.

This last was the beginning of a project that he was to continue working on until the late s. Much of Snyder's poetry expresses experiences, environments, and insights involved with the work he has done for a living: logger, fire-lookout, steam-freighter crew, translator, carpenter, and itinerant poet, among other things.

During his years in Japan, Snyder was also initiated into Shugendo , a form of ancient Japanese animism , see also Yamabushi. In the s, Snyder took part in the rise of a strand of Buddhist anarchism emerging from the Beat movement. In , this would become his home, with the Snyder family's portion being named Kitkitdizze. On the island, on August 6, [36] , he married Masa Uehara, whom he had met in Osaka a year earlier. In , they moved to the San Juan Ridge in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada of Northern California, near the South Yuba River, where they and friends built a house that drew on rural-Japanese and Native-American architectural ideas.

In his book The Back Country appeared, again mainly a collection of poems stretching back over about fifteen years. Snyder devoted a section at the end of the book to his translations of eighteen poems by Kenji Miyazawa. Regarding Wave appeared in January , a stylistic departure offering poems that were more emotional, metaphoric, and lyrical.

From the late s, the content of Snyder's poetry increasingly had to do with family, friends, and community. He continued to publish poetry throughout the s, much of it reflecting his re-immersion in life on the American continent and his involvement in the back-to-the-land movement in the Sierra foothills.

Snyder wrote numerous essays setting forth his views on poetry, culture, social experimentation, and the environment. Snyder's journals from his travel in India in the mids appeared in under the title Passage Through India. In these, his wide-ranging interests in cultures, natural history, religions, social critique, contemporary America, and hands-on aspects of rural life, as well as his ideas on literature, were given full-blown articulation. In , Snyder became a professor in the writing program at the University of California, Davis. Snyder is now professor emeritus of English.

Snyder was married to Uehara for twenty-two years; the couple divorced in Snyder married Carole Lynn Koda October 3, — June 29, , [39] who would write Homegrown: Thirteen brothers and sisters, a century in America , in , [12] [40] and remained married to her until her death of cancer. She had been born in the third generation of a successful Japanese-American farming family, noted for its excellent rice. She shared Buddhism, extensive travels, and work with Snyder, and performed independent work as a naturalist. As Snyder's involvement in environmental issues and his teaching grew, he seemed to move away from poetry for much of the s and early s.

However, in he published the complete Mountains and Rivers Without End , a mixture of the lyrical and epic modes celebrating the act of inhabitation on a specific place on the planet. This work was written over a year period. It has been translated into Japanese, French and Russian.

In Snyder published Danger on Peaks , his first collection of new poems in twenty years. For his ecological and social activism, Snyder was named as one of the visionaries selected in by Utne Reader. Snyder's life and work was celebrated in John J.

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Healy's documentary The Practice of the Wild. The film, which debuted at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival , features wide-ranging, running conversations between Snyder and poet, writer and longtime colleague Jim Harrison , filmed mostly on the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon , California. The film also shows archival photographs and film of Snyder's life. Gary Snyder uses mainly common speech-patterns as the basis for his lines, though his style has been noted for its "flexibility" and the variety of different forms his poems have taken.

He typically uses neither conventional meters nor intentional rhyme. The author and editor Stewart Brand once wrote: "Gary Snyder's poetry addresses the life-planet identification with unusual simplicity of style and complexity of effect. Such imagery can be both sensual at a personal level yet universal and generic in nature.

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Readers become explorers on both a very private level as well as a very public and grand level. A simplistic touch becoming a very complex interaction occurring at multiple levels. This is the effect Snyder intended. In an interview with Faas, he states, "There is a direction which is very beautiful, and that's the direction of the organism being less and less locked into itself, less and less locked into its own body structure and its relatively inadequate sense organs, towards a state where the organism can actually go out from itself and share itself with others.

It seems to be a poem just begun but left unfinished. And there are other respects in which this is the secret not only of art but of life itself. Haiku represents the ultimate refinement of a long tradition in Far Eastern literature which derived its inspiration from Zen Buddhism.

There is a complete lack of the unessential [7] and a marvelously refreshing directness. To look for some sort of deep symbolism in these replies is to miss the point completely, for they are the plainest and most complete answers to the great problems of philosophy and religion. According to Zen, the reason why our quest for some ultimate reality is so difficult is that we are looking in obscure places for what is out in the broad daylight.

Once again, the art is one of knowing when to stop. This is not a kind of sentimental pantheism or nature mysticism. We eat. These answers may seem very prosaic, very matter-of-fact and dry, but haiku is the same insight, the same view of the ultimate reality in terms of poetry. The point is far more obvious than that. Blyth has made a considerable selection of haiku from English literature, conveniently saving me the trouble of searching around for examples: [12]. The tinkle of the thirsty rill. Unheard all day, ascends again.

The weak-eyed bat, with short shrill shriek. Flits by on leathern wings. To a green thought, in a green shade. Some bird from out the brake. Starts into voice a moment. Then is still.

In shades the orange bright. Like golden lamps in a green night. The wonder of these few lines is that in each instance they represent a moment of intense perception. Every one of us can recall a number of such moments in our lives, moments when we were aware of being alive in an unusually vivid way. I can recollect a glimpse of sunlit pigeons against a dark thundercloud. The sound of cowbells in a mountain silence on a hot afternoon. The noise of a distant waterfall in the dusk. The smell of burning leaves in the haze of an autumn day.

A filigree of black branches against the cold blue of a winter sky. The moon hanging like a luminous fruit from a pine bough. And I describe such moments I begin almost to speak in haiku. Now this is part of the secret of Zen; that life reveals itself most plainly when you do not clutch at it either with your feelings or with your questing intellect.

Touch and go! That is the whole art. Everything kept goes stale. The reason is that whatever is momentous, living and moving is momentary. Minute by minute our experience moves along without return and we are in accord with it to the degree that we move with it as the mind follows music or as a leaf goes with the stream. When the lightning flashes,. How admirable he who thinks not—. Though this is perhaps a poor haiku for the very reason that it begins to philosophize even though it philosophizes against philosophizing.

But it only just beings—and this is the point. Being too much against philosophizing is just as much an arid intellectualism as being too much for it.

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The old pond. A frog jumps in. This state of mind is technically called mushin , literally the state of no-mind. This is when we are simply aware of what is without distorting it by the complexities of self-consciousness as when, in efforts to get the very most out of life, we not only feel that we feel, but feel that we feel that we feel.

The state of mushin is thus an extremely clear kind of unselfconsciousness where the poet is not divided from his subject, the knower from the known. The scarecrow in the distance. It walked with me. As I walked. Sleet falling. Fathomless, infinite. Winter desolation. In a world of one color. The sound of the wind. The evening haze. Thinking of past things. How far off they are. The literary form of the haiku is even more rigid that that of the sonnet, which is perhaps the most formal style of English poetry.

Not only must it be expressed in seventeen syllables [20] but there are a number of traditional restrictions of the subject matter.

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Haiku must always be written in harmony with the current seasons of the year, [21] and there is a strong tendency to adhere to certain customary themes; certain flowers, trees, insects, animals, festivals and landscape being the usual occasions of the poems. But strict limitations of form seem to be a condition of great artistry, an essential part of the very art being to see how much can be done with so little. A willow. And two or three cows. Waiting for the boat. Or this, if I remember it rightly, [25] by Kobori-Enshiu:. A cluster of summer trees.


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  • A glimpse of the sea. A pale evening moon. Contrariwise there are times when the poet seems to outdo himself with ingenuity:. A fallen leaf. Returning to the branch? Or this by Issa:. A brushwood gate. And for a lock. This snail. But the best haiku are those which arise from the tension between the rigidity of the form and the depth of the poetic feeling. Not a single stone. To throw at the dog. The wintry moon. Leaves falling. Lie one on another.

    The rain beats on the rain. What is restrained is the temptation of every artist to show off, to leave his listener nothing to do but admire. It is a poetry where the reader is almost as important as the poet, where deep calls unto deep and the poem is successful to the degree that the reader shares the same poetic experience which, however, is never explicitly stated.

    What the listener has to be in the know about is not literature but life, places, seasons, moods and, above all, the utterly indescribably insight of Zen Buddhism. Not their goodness or badness, beauty or ugliness, usefulness or uselessness, nor even their abstract Isness or Being, but rather their very concrete Thingness. Sticking on the mushroom. The leaf.

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    Of some unknown tree. The tree frog. Riding the banana leaf. Sways and quivers. Walking in the winter rain. The umbrella. Pushes me back. Evening rain. The banana leaf. Speaks of it first. And haiku is very frequently used as a type of accompanying verse to this sort of painting. I believe that haiku had their origin in anthologies of short quotations from Chinese poems which the Zen Buddhists compiled for purposes of meditation. One of these poems puts the quality of Thusness a little more philosophically and therefore for us, perhaps a little more intelligibly when it says:.

    If you do not believe,. Look at September! Look at October! The yellow leaves falling, falling,. To fill both mountain and river. But again, and for the last time, let me say that you must not look here for any symbolism, and idea either of God revealed in the beauty of the autumn leaves or just autumn leaves with no God, or of the transiency of life, or of anything else. The mysterious and yet obvious Thusness of things is clear when you see it directly without asking questions.