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L E E B A R T L E T T University of New Mexico Gary Snyder’s Myths & Texts and the Monomyth It has been twenty years since Gary Snyder’s long poem Myths & Texts was published entire by Totem Press, yet aside from a few con­ temporary reviews, the poem has aroused little critical comment.1 Even disregarding Ezra Pound’s thirty-year “time lag,” the lack of sustained critical treatment of Myths & Texts is not really surprising. While the poem more or less remained in print through its original small-press publisher, until recently it had never been collected in any of the poet’s more readily available New Directions volumes.2 Also, even though Allen Ginsberg has won a National Book Award, and Snyder himself the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, some critics still look upon any writers connected with the Beat Generation with some ill-ease. Finally, many critics are for good reason wary of dealing with a poetic vision which depends so heavily upon fairly labyrinthine Eastern and Native American mythology and symbolism. 1See brief discussions of the poem in Bob Steuding, Gary Snyder (Boston: Twayne, 1976), and Bert Almon, Gary Snyder (Boise: Boise State University Western Writers Series, no. 37, 1979). The most useful item on Myths & Texts thus far is Howard McCord’s short pamphlet “Some Notes to Gary Snyder’s Myths & Texts ' (Berkeley: Sand Dollar, 1971) which attempts to identify many of the allusions and quotations in the poem. 2Myths & Texts was first published by Totem Press in association with Corinth Books in 1960. The volume went through a number of printings, though as often as not was out-of-print, especially through the early seventies. In 1978, New Directions, Snyder’s primary publisher, finally brought out an edition of the book, with a new preface by Snyder. 138 Western American Literature Myths & Texts, like most of Snyder’s lyrics and the in-progress Mountains and Rivers Without End, is carefully crafted — and from the point of view of technique, Snyder does in fact seem almost a classicist; he counts, interestingly enough, Pound as an influence. Yet we must remember Blake here: “To Generalize is to be an idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.” For Snyder, it is precisely his atten­ tion to detail which allows his romantic vision to flower forth; he became not long after writing Myths & Texts a Zen monk, and the essence of Zen is “Attention!” Therefore, though the progress of the poem is mod­ ernist (fragmentary rather than narrative), and the verse is Poundian in its refinement of the image, the thematic movement is decidedly romantic as it traces the overthrow of the Apollonian tendencies toward culture, education, and the ego by the Dionysian impulses toward the primitive, ecstasy, and the unconscious. The romantic, as Morse Peckham noted, can be identified by his three-fold movement: confrontation of the Void, subsequent psychic disorientation and search for renewal, and final transcendence through the discovery of new ways of locating value in the self through a re-integration with the natural world. Joseph Campbell, a Jungian, sees this movement as the “monomyth” : separation — initiation — return.3The three principle divisions of Myths & Texts, “Logging,” “Hunting,” and “Burning,” mirror this archetypal mono­ myth. They assert both the physical and psychic dislocations of the narrator from the life-denying, Apollonian impulses of his culture, his quest for an alternative to that negation, and the final realization of a new vision born out of the flames of a dying civilization. Section 1, “Logging,” which takes much of its imagery from Snyder’s experiences as a logger in Oregon, presents a modern wasteland produced through an Apollonian desire to control the forces of nature. “Logging I,” which opens with a reference to the last sentence of Walden, “the sun is but a morning star,” establishes the theme of the poem as the possibility for regeneration emerges from a dream-vision of 3Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949). According to Campbell, “The standard path of the mytho­ logical adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation — initiation — return: which might be named the nuclear...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 137-148
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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