All posts by TJ Snow

Stillness of Spirit

How does the language in Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island serve to clarify one’s relationship with the natural world?

Gary Snyder’s collection of poetry serves to help clarify one’s relationship to the natural world in an array of ways, with specific attention to certain elements of natural imagery as well as an accentuation of the spaces between amidst the momentary present of life. This is apparent within his poem “Source”, citing phrases such as

“To be in/ to the land/ where croppt-out rock/ can hardly see/”

Which directly lends itself towards a relation between that which we position ourselves upon and that which is positioned; to understand that whatever speaker is acknowledging this landscape is aware of a closeness with the land as a sort of end rather than a means, a goal or aspiration of sorts. Furthermore, the anthropomorphism of the ‘croppt-out rock’ as something with a visual capability would be where my analysis would halt, if it weren’t for the immediate almost-contradiction that then follows, being described as something that can ‘hardly see’. Why minimize the quality that was just given to the otherwise inanimate form of the rock? In this case, to illuminate the often-overlooked stillness and tranquility that’s found within the acceptance of a certain lack of personal agency in one’s relationship to the world, exemplified through the specific model of the rock’s being so close in fact to the land, that it’s ‘vision’ of it is almost rendered obsolete.

“I hear no news”

This line is self-revealing, in both it’s minimalism and its content. Illustrating an inner peace that’s free of the otherwise unavoidable chaos of the societal everyday, the silence and space able to be occupied by a quieted mind is shown through an outward observation of a cessation of sensory input; both through the explained medium of a lack of actual news as well as the absence of words within the sentence used to communicate this thought. An awareness of this space is only perpetuated when one strives to develop one’s relationship with the natural world; as it can be found throughout. This idea is what’s perpetuated when one examines this line within the context of the entire poem.

“Up here/ out back/ drink deep/ that black light/”

Finally, this repetition of prepositional phrasing in the beginning of these next lines as well as the parallel syntax found throughout illustrate a certain attention put upon physical positioning among the natural world within the poem. Especially the final line, ‘that black light’, by bringing a dualistic meaning to every word found beforehand, showcasing the point of painting the picture for the listener, the fuel that’s being emphasized to be ‘drunk’, is one of a multi-faceted nature: Blackness (understood as darkness in the natural world) is defined as the absence of light. So how can a light in fact be black? When this light functions again as a central metaphor for the underlying emptiness and subsequent freedom found in the present moment through clarity of thought and stillness of spirit illustrated through various processes found within the natural world. Both clarifying as well as deepening one’s understanding of the inherent connection which permeates all of nature’s creations as a whole.

Contemplating The Boundaries

Upon considering the more-than-human world I find myself thinking about not just those places which are uninhabited by man, but also all that which hasn’t been encapsulated within our action’s sphere of influence. Which is sort of difficult to quantify, isn’t it? Even if one were to take a land preservation, for example, who’s purpose stands via the state department as to remain unscathed by the clumsy, err-laden hands of mankind, is it not supposed therein that that land would have met the exact same fate as it’s less-than-fortuitous siblings across the country, had man’s agency not purposefully set it aside to begin with? Of course, that’s not to say that there are absolutely no definitive criteria for a world that’s ‘more than human’, simply that one should be conscientious of the given parameters for the term, when trying to identify all that it might fall beneath. To put this another way, the ‘more than human, (less than___)’ world is the parenthetical footnote that keeps echoing in my head when trying to tie down a truly comprehensive definition for the phrase. I find it necessary should one make the delineation of categorizing humans as less than the penultimate example of intelligent life we so-often enjoy looking upon ourselves as, that one should consequentially interpret an example which at the very least, seeks to do the same with the new subject of exaltation. Even if the word that fills in the blank might be “nothing”, with regards to the omnipotent and ubiquitous tendency of nature and it’s miraculous ability to create, surely some type of parameter or boundary must be set, given the fact that, logically speaking, one thing can only exceed or fall behind another through various differing degrees of relative comparison.

That being said, I’m choosing to throw “nothing” in there and give it a shot as the benchmark for my rough characterization for the more than human world. Nature : “more than human, less than nothing.” As far as I can tell currently, it seems to fit rather aptly. After all, show me another force in the universe able to perpetuate and propogate both itself as well as all of it’s creations with such unyielding intensity and longevity across time, unaffected by the relative genius/stupidity it’s more “intelligent” creatures as well as the subsequent ramifications of certain cultural “advancements” whose only real purpose appears to be the long-fought yet futile acquisition of power from nature, into the hands of man. Illustrate to me, another ever-present force in the natural world which simultaneously conquers and preserves. One that takes as well as gives; all the while still giving more than it’s taking. One that’s capable of destruction on an utterly massive scale, yet at the same time able to create whole islands from beneath the ocean or shift the fate an entire species based on the oh-so-fickle relevancy of a single codon in the DNA of a few individuals.

Although, this definition of the more than human world could stand to be built upon. While it definitely works for now, a topic which by definition surpasses the importance of humanity (and is strangely enough being asked of to be ruminated upon by humans) demands more time and thought directly allocated towards it. The fact being that many humans are self-centered to some degree or at least, self-involved in the sense that they’d like to find everything else’s relevance in accordance with themselves; I think it a much more multi-faceted and authentically interesting question to ask: While omitting the self, how does one draw meaning, period? When changing the conventions by which one was used to measuring the value of something, how does one deal with that amorphous in-between space? It can be difficult enough trying to get an answer to a question;  having to rethink one’s entire line of questioning due to a misdirection of attention is another story altogether. Perhaps most interestingly of all, after one has solidified the new question; what wonders do it’s answers hold?