Term Paper: Communities in Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers Without End

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¶ … Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers Without End. The writer explores the meaning of community as it relates to Snyder's writing and provides examples of community with and without relationships to people. There were five sources used to complete this paper.

Communities in Gary Snyder's Mountains & Rivers Without End

At first glance the word community means a group of people. There is usually very little thought about the word and its meaning beyond that, however when one peels off the surface layer and explores the true meaning the word becomes much more complicated.

Community as a word can mean people living together in one geographic location, for example the community of Nashville, Tennessee. The word can also pertain to a group of people who do not live together but share a common bond, as in the "Native American community." In this instance the word community refers to all people in America who are Native American regardless of their geographic presence or residence.

Sometimes the word community can apply to people and places in concert. One example of this would be the description of those who live in the Appalachian Mountains. The word community in this context describes first the actual geographic location of the mountains and second, the people who reside within that area. The combined description would include the word community without having to verbally or mentally divide the two.

It can also be used in a manner that describes social norms. When news media or prison officials talk about preparing inmates to go back into the community, they are not speaking of a specific town or group of people but are instead referring to everyone that is held by a standard of societal mores and norms that the prisoners, once released will be expected to join.

It can also refer to a group of people who have nothing in common except an interest. For example a community of writers, could refer to writers all over the world in different resident locations, with different lifestyles, cultures and traditions but all share the common love of writing.

Abstract Meaning

In looking at the meaning of community in the works of Gary Snyder it is important for one to have a grasp of the abstract idea and thought that can be applied to such ideas.

In Peggy Chinn's Peace and Power: Building Communities for the Future Chinn illuminates the essence of the word when she discusses the definition through the values and concerns that individuals share.

Communities are defined by the values, concerns or purposes that the individuals within them share. The phrase "global community" encompasses all who live on the planet earth, but the phrase implies a general concern about the interactive global environment, economies, and politics. When groups of people within a community interact on more personal levels, the values, concerns and purposes that bring them together are more explicit, and also more challenging. Individuals begin to experience firsthand what it takes to reconcile their personal preferences and desires with the preferences and desires of others in the group. Groups that create cohesiveness and that can identify what it is that brings them together as a group are a community -- meaning that whatever their numbers they share certain values, concerns, or purposes" (Chinn 23-24).

In examining the work of Snyder with regard to the meaning of community it is important to interpret his works as the work of an observer who removes himself from the scene and allows landscapes and events to define the realms of the value (Davidson, 99).

Snyder is a believer in the social organization of tribe and family as they become community. In his works the desire for personal enlightenment is affected through the tribe or family as spiritual activity becomes closely linked to other group interaction forms (Davidson 100).

In Snyder's work he values and celebrates the strong endurance of tribal units that have continued to exist in spite of urban evolution. "What Snyder calls the 'communities of practice' are those tribal units that have existed since the Neolithic period within which work, prayer, childrearing and art are shared. He feels that the tribe is still alive and well, even in urban America, and much of his writing has been devoted to celebrating its endurance" (Davidson 100).

In his poem Covers the Ground Snyder relays his belief about stepping out of the picture and enjoying nature as it takes its course through many of the visuals that he creates with his poem.

When California was wild, it was one sweet bee-garden... (Snyder 65)"

The above opening is interesting as it will mean different things with regard to community to different people. For those who are reading it and are over the age of 50 it will bring a visual of community including hippies, dancing, free love and free spirits for those were the habit and traditions of much of California in the 'wild" days gone by.

However, for those under the age of 50 the line brings about a visual of environmental community pictures including flowers, trees, bushes and sunshine with bees flowing around freely.

The next stanza has different community meanings as well as he steps out of the picture and provides the view from the car window as the rows flash by and one understands one is in the orchard community. Down the Great Central valley's blossoming almond orchard acres lines of tree-trunks shoot a glance through as the rows flash by (Snyder 65)

The next stanza provides a clear understanding of what Davidson discovered as he read Snyder's work. It is in this stanza that he allows the landscape to become the community and does not interfere with human elements.

And the ground is covered with cement culverts standing on end, house-high & six feet wide culvert after culvert far as you can see covered with mobile homes, pint size portable housing, johnny-on-the-spots (Snyder 65), concrete freeway, overpass, underpass (Snyder 65), exit floreals, entrance curtsies, railroad bridge, long straight miles of divider oleanders (Snyder 65);

scrappy ratty grass and thistle, tumbled barn, another age (Snyder 65),"

This stanza indeed provides a sense of community without ever involving people. One pictures not only the structures which a verbally described, but one gets a mental visual of families getting ready for dinner, in yellow lit kitchens, while vehicles travel the highways on the way home from work. All of his description stays with things and structures however, it presents a sense of community because it ties together in a geographic California location the things that people use to come together and live together.

Snyder also uses those mental visuals to place people into communities that share a common interest. In one stanza he paints a picture of fruit picking families that travel together as the seasons move across the state. In addition he shows the reader with his descriptions that farmers are closely connected thereby making a community as well.

A cubic blocks of fresh fruit loading boxes, long aluminum automated chicken feeder houses, spring fur of green weed comes on last fall's baked ground,

Blue Diamond Almonds" farther see identical red-roofed houses closed-in fencing, stretching off towards the tower that holds catfood with a red / white checkered sign (Snyder 65)"

Many of Snyder's works allude to the survival of communities in spite of progress. In his poem Walking the New York Bedrock, Snyder reminds the reader of the strength of a community of trees and other things that refuse to be oppressed by city needs.

A wake up.

Roll over and slide down the rock face

Walk away in the woods toward squirrel, toward Rare people! Seen from a safe distance, murmur of traffic approaching,

Siren howls echoing

Through the gridlock of structures,

Vibrating with helicopters (Snyder 65),"

The above passage of the poem provides an inside view of what used to be before the city grew up around it. The trees, the squirrels and the innocence of nature have refused to give up their community. They continue to thrive even as helicopters and people and concrete threaten the space. It is a tribute by Snyder to the strength of communities as it also recognizes that new communities are also developing and gaining strength to co-exist among the trees, and squirrels in New York City.

Within this poem one can easily relate to and recognize Snyder's knowledge not only of the Buddhist detachment but also of the Marxian quality that embodies a totally productive person who resides within a larger community or society (Davidson, 101).

Snyder embodies distinctly American characteristics: a sense of tribal inter-participation that he derives from Amerindian cultures and a sense of Yankee self-reliance that he takes from his upbringing in the Pacific Northwest " (Davidson 101).

The poems used in Mountains Without Ends illustrate Snyder's understanding and respect for the fact that communities tend to endure and remain constant regardless of what goes on around them. The use of physical landscape settings provide Snyder… [END OF PREVIEW]

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