In his award winning poetry collection Turtle Island, Gary Snyder advocates for environmental preservation and explores the relationship between man and nature. In his poems, Snyder never refers to nature in a critical fashion; he rather portrays nature’s magnificence and communicates the beauty of the wildness of nature that is to be admired and respected.
In the poem entitled “Without” within the “Manzanita” section, Snyder’s appreciation for nature’s wildness is particularly noticeable. He writes of the “silence of nature within. the power within. the power without” (Snyder, 6). Snyder’s recognition, yet his refusal to specifically name an example of nature’s power such as natural disasters that are not able to be controlled by mankind, he alludes to an almost metaphysical aspect of nature. This metaphysical unpredictability in Snyder’s poetry is similar to the works of the loosely grouped Metaphysical poets who wrote during the seventeenth century in England. In John Donne’s poem, “Metempsychosis”, Donne also explores the condition of exploitation as an aspect of nature that man shares with wildlife. Donne writes:
“He hunts not fish, but as an officer,
Stays in his court, as his own net, and there
All suitors of all sorts themselves enthral;
So on his back lies this whale wantoning,
And in his gulf-like throat, sucks everything
That passeth near.”
In Turtle Island, Snyder also pays homage to his interest in Native American culture and its relation to the natural world. To Gary Snyder and many of the Transcendentalist writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau the Native American culture provided an alternate way of life-separate from the traditional capitalist-centered Western culture that has a negative effect on aspects of nature that Snyder appreciates: wildness and environmental awareness.
In his poem, “Control Burn”, Snyder refers to how the Indians purified their natural environment rather than destroying it. He writes, “What the Indians here used to do, was, to burn out the brush every year. in the woods, up the gorges, keeping the oak and the pine stands tall and clear…” (Snyder, 19). In this poem, Snyder focuses on maintaining the cleanness of nature rather than sullying it with pesticides and manmade chemicals. Snyder uses “Fire” as a metaphor for purifying nature: “Fire is an old story. I would like, with a sense of helpful order, with respect for laws of nature, to help my land with a burn. a hot clean burn” (Snyder, 19). In this poem, Snyder emphasizes the necessity of evaluating the impact man’s presence has on nature. While the Native Americans appreciated the preservation of nature and strived to live in harmony with the environment, modern civilization lacks the knowledge and awareness regarding nature that Snyder holds the Native Americans in high regard for. Consequently, Snyder clearly considers himself to be akin with the primitiveness of Native American culture rather than the modern expectations for environmental awareness.