[A section from “Mountains and Rivers Without End” – Lu Yuan (China, Qing dynasty, late 17th Century – handscroll ink on paper – from the Freer/Sackler Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art, Washington DC]
Gary Snyder in 1994, reading at Naropa –
We featured a few weeks back a reading by Allen and Miguel Algarin from 1994 celebrating (among other things) the dedication of the Allen Ginsberg Library and the twentieth anniversary at Naropa (“Beats and Rebel Angels”).
We continue today, with the second half of that reading, featuring Gary Snyder
(and – tomorrow – David Amram)
Andrew Schelling: Welcome back. I’d like to first thank all the volunteers who ‘ve worked hard tonight to make this evening possible and to remind you that this is just the beginning of a month of poetry readings. The Naropa Institute would like to invite everybody here to come to the great show tomorrow night, on the front-range, the lawns, back of Naropa, about eight-thirty, we get to watch for Independence Day, the flowers blooming in the void, the city of Boulder’s fireworks, There are also after the fireworks, down at Boulder Theatre, Ken Kesey’s troupe performing “Twister”, at ten o’clock, and various other readings throughout the week and throughout the month.
This afternoon at the opening of the Allen Ginsberg Library, I sat underneath one of the two largest sycamore trees in Boulder County and discovered I was sitting next to Gary Snyder, who looked up, as the thunderclouds rolled over, and said, “Looks like we might be rained out”, and I paused a moment and thought, “This is a man with whom you can really discuss the weather!” – and from there move on to geological landforms, watersheds, trees and flowers and their names, wildlife, and from there on to anthropology, Oriental languages, American poetry.. Back in the Paleolithic, our ancestors were talking seriously about the weather. One of the things about Gary’s poetry is that it returns you, again and again, in this economically predatory and media-dazzled world, to the things that humans have always talked about – love. work, play, poetry, friendship, community. I’ve seen many of you wandering around with his books under your arms or in secret libraries, books like Earth House Hold and The Back Countryor No Nature or The Practice of The Wild, carrying them like secret documents of a society of the future .
So, instead of enumerating his various achievements and books and awards and prizes, I’d like to say something to the residents of Colorado – For the last twenty years, Gary has stood the front lines against a steel-bellied, lock-jawed, beast known as the US economy, as it was set on carving up the landforms of California. That beast has slowly shifted its gaze and moved away from California and has descended here on us in the Rocky Mountains. We need to be on the front lines. This is a man who’s had a great deal of experience and his words are a call to vigilance there. Please welcome this ecological vigilante and poetic activist, our elder, Gary Snyder.
Gary Snyder: I guess Andrew is talking about the Californication of Colorado that I hear about from time to time. Well, tonight, you know, there’s also a talk being given here in town on “Sacred Prostitutes”! – well, shoot, here we are! – us poets! – And I’m very pleased to be able to be part of this twentieth-year celebration for Naropa for the Jack Kerouac School and to do.. to be a friend, again, to Jack, to Allen, to be present, old comradely spirit, old memory of work together, delightful thought of a few more grey-haired years of work and play to do. Twenty years of Naropa. This coming year, a year from now, 1995, it will be forty years since I first met Allen in a cottage in Berkeley and forty years since the Six Gallery reading in San Francisco’s Marina where Allen first read “Howl”,and some of our little spirit got launched in the world, maybe not moving it, as Anne Waldman so graciously and optimistically says, for miles – but, give me a millimeter that’s real, you know, and I’m pleased with it.
Tonight I’m going to be reading from my present project, which is finishing up my long-time side-track, Mountains and Rivers Without End. This is also something that I started forty years ago . In fact, it was on the eighth of April. I came across this in my notes just a couple of days ago. The eighth of April, 1956, the Japanese painter Saburo Hasegawa, a friend of Alan Watts invited me to have tea with him in his apartment in San Francisco, and we drank tea and talked most of the afternoon about Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings, and in particular the great Zen monk and Japanese landscape painter – Sesshu (Toyo), who I was fascinated with at the time. Hasegawa gave me some marvelous insights into the mind of the Chinese and Japanese painters over a thousand years who had done that extraordinary landscape painting, and that is in my notes, where I first got the idea for a poem on landscapes, and landscapes of the world, and our mind as landscape, titled “Mountains and Rivers Without End”. All of the other poetry I’ve written through the years, in different forms and in different directions, has been a great pleasure to me, but my sweet secret project was to return, from time to time, as it came to me, and as it grew on me, to this other work, which I am now finishing up, and which is not, in many ways, like most of the poetry that I’ve done that you’re acquainted with.
Dogen Zenji once said, ”Who ever told people that mind is opinions, thoughts, ideas, consciousness?”. “No”, he said, “mind is roof-tiles, fence-posts, tire-wheels, carriages, rocks, water, clouds”. Starting from there.
So with Saburo Hasegawa’s help and instruction, I went searching in some of the great museums in the United States, and later in Asia, for a type of landscape painting called “a handscroll”, or in Japanese a “makimono”. These are not the hanging paintings, but the paintings that unroll sideways. A series of such paintings have been done over the centuries, all with the same title. The title of all of these scrolls is “Mountains and Rivers Without End”. And so this is a poem, opening this series, about the earliest of those hand-scrolls, which is called “Endless Streams and Mountains” – (This scroll shows up in Jiangxi Province, when it was under the Jin Tartars. Even then the painter was unknown. It was just one of many handscrolls with that name. “At the end of the painting, the poem and the seals begin, it unrolls”. The owners of landscape scrolls put their own seal at the end of the scroll and then would write a poem. And each subsequent owner would write another poem and put another seal on it. And then, different owners would invite their friends to come look at it and they would spread it out for an afternoon and have tea. And then their friends, if they felt like it, would write another poem on it. And so new pieces of silk might be added onto the mounting at the end of the scroll, for as long as was needed, poem after poem. Discussing the scroll and appreciating it would go on through time.
“At the end of the painting, the poem and the seals begin, it unrolls./”- Wang Wen-wei saw this at the mayor’s house in Ho-tung/town, year 1205./ He wrote at the end of it,/”The Fashioner of Things has no original intentions/Mountains and rivers are spirit condensed”/”..Who come up with/these miraculous forests and springs?/Pale ink/on fine white silk – Later that same month, someone named Li Hui added/ “…Most people can get along with the noise of dogs/ and chickens./ Everybody cheerful in these peaceful times/ But I – why are my tastes so odd?/I love the company of streams and boulders”/ – T’ien Hsieh of Wei-lo, no date, next wrote/”..The water holds up the mountains/The mountains go down into the water”/ – In 1332 Chih-shun added,/”…This is truly a painting worth careful keeping/And it has poem-colophons from the Sung and the/Chin dynasties. That it survived dangers of fire and/war makes it even rarer”/ – In the mid-seventeenth century one Wang To had a look at it, he wrote/”My brother’s relative by marriage, Wen-sun, is learned and/ has good taste. He writes good prose and poetry. My broth/-er brought over this painting of his to show me”/ – The great Ch’ing dynasty collector Liang Ch’ing piao did not write on it or cover it with seals/Then it went into the Imperial collection/and stayed there down to the twentieth-century./ Chang Ta-ch’ien sold it in 1949/At the moment it’s at the Cleveland Art Museum/on a bluff overlooking the steely waters of Lake Erie.
I saw it in the 1970’s/Clearing the mind and sliding in/to that created space,/ the whole world a web of waters streaming over rocks/sky misty but not raining/I’m out on a lake/ or a river/coasting by/The trail enters the cliff from a stretch of gentler lands/wildlife and birds in hiding/must be mid-day/woods thin and trimmed/pine, some hard woods/brushy on the peaks/no farms but tiny cottages shelters gateways rest-stops, roofed but open work space/a warm and humid climate/set between cliffs/a flurry of temple roofs like clustered flowers/ a trail of climbing stair-steps curves back to the hills/five streams coming down from higher hills and basins back behind/big ranges behind these rugged little front hills/ pulses of low ground rocky uplifts/layered pinnacles aslant/A man sitting on a log hunched over/another, standing over him, raises a staff/a third, carrying a roll of mats, looks on/Just off-shore, two men in a tiny boat/A mile or so along, someome is fishing/They made fine bridges/A man with a shoulder load walks up a grade/Horsemen and walkers travel together/The trail ends at the edge of an inlet by a stream./Two moored boats and a boatman,/hills rise beyond the stream but no sign of further trails or dwellings/The beginning of the wild/The drifting boat has floated off the page./Brush, soft but dry, mooist but not misty./Step back and look at the whole scroll/It rises and falls/Stamp the foot, walk with it, clap, turn/The creek comes in/Ah, strain through boulders/Mountains walking on the water/Mountains, water ripples every hill/I step out of the museum./Low gray clouds over the lake/chill March breeze/old ghost ranges/sunken rivers come again/stand by the wall and tell their tale/Walk the path, slip the reigns, grind the ink, wet the brush, unroll the broad white space/lean out and tip the moist black line”. [Editorial note – this early draft differs in some minor respects from the final version published by Counterpoint Press in 2008]
What are these mountains and rivers on the earth? – The rivers are all just part of the water cycle, the water cycle being of course the rising of waters from lakes and oceans back into clouds, moving around over the planet as part of the climate system, precipitating down again as snow or water, and from the highest peaks on downward again, joining the streams, the watersheds, cutting the land, eroding the landscape, carrying sediment back out to sea, in a continual cycle. The cycle, it is said, is on a two-million-year scale, that is to say, all of the atoms of water in all of the oceans and seas are up, out, and around, once every two million years, excluding water that is locked up in glaciers in the Poles and in the mountains. Mountains, on the other hand, are generated by subduction, the grinding of plates against each other, the conflict of one plate against another giving uplift, or volcanic activity. And the subduction cycle is once every two-hundred-million years, roughly, that is to say, mountains will be back down under the water and back out again, or land will be down and out every two-hundred-million years. So we’re playing a two-million year cycle against a two-hundred-million year cycle here, dancing its way around. The old Buddhist images are mountains as ascetic energy and yogic detatchment and waters as giving compassion and giving it all away. So that Avalokitevara is the image of.. is tied to the metaphor of waters iconographically and Vairocana Buddha and his emanation
Chandamaharoshana and a number of other Buddha emanations are associated with cliffs, rocks, mountains and asceticism – (and fire, also – volcanic fire)
Here’s a poem for the water cycle [Editorial note – continuing, from “Mountains and Rivers…” – “”The Flowing”] called “Falls” . This poem was written on a magical occasion at the base of Yosemite Falls in California – (Falls – “Over stone lip/ the creek leaps out as one/, divides in spray and streamers,/lets it all go..”…..”I stand drenched in crashing spray and mist/ and pray.”
Grey eyes – the eyes of Greek goddesses are often grey like grey-eyed Athena – Grey-green is the color of the Great Basin. The great presence, the great comrade, the great population of the Great Basin is Great Basin sagebrush. What a marvelous plant! So firm! So clear! Stretching so far! – So this is a poem for sagebrush, and for the Great Basin. It’s called “Earrings Dangling and Miles of Desert “ [likewise, continuing, as all Snyder reads here, from Mountains and Rivers…] – “Sagebrush (artemisia) is of the sunflower family or compositae. It is not related to sage, salvia, which is in the family of mint. The Great Basin sagebrush, our biggest artemesia, Artemesia tridentata…”….. ““Farewell, Artemesia,/ aromatic in the rain,/ I will think of you in my other poems.”
“Reeds” (“With This Flesh”) – “Why should we cherish all sentient beings?/ Because sentient beings/ are the roots of the tree-of-awakening/The Bodhisattvas and the Buddhas are the flowers and fruits/ Compassion is the water for the roots” (that’s from the Avatamsaka Sutra) –” I – “A Beach in Baja –”… on the twenty-eighth day of September, 1539, the very excellent Senor Francisco de Ulloa, lieutenant of the Governer and captain of the armada by grace of the most illustrious Senor Marques de Valle de Oaxaca, took possession of the bay of San Andres and the Bermeja Sea…..”….. “… – I, Pedro Palenzia, notary Republic of this armada, write what happened before me” – “II – “Senora Maria Leree is ninety-eight years old/ rests in a dark cool room at full noon…”….” Where we breathe, we bow.” – “III – (Eat yourself) – “The bulls of Iberia – Europa loves the Father…”… “with this meat I thee feed/with this flesh I thee wed”
And I’m finishing with this little epigraph..
“The Bear Mother” – She veils herself/ to speak of eating salmon/ teases me with/ ” What do you know of my ways?”/ and kisses me through the mountain./ Through and under is layers, its/gullies, its folds:/Her mouth full of blueberries,/ We share.”
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape, and
continuing until approximately thirty-two minutes in]
[Photograph by Seth Brigham]