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Morris Graves. BIRD EXPERIENCING LIGHT. 1969. Tempera on paper. 12 15/ 16" x 10 1 /4". Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, ace. no. 70.16. Photo: Paul Macapia. Courtesy of the Morris Graves Estate. S e e in g a C o r n e r o f t h e S k y in G a r y S n y d e r ’s Mo u n ta in s a n d Riv e r s w ith o u t En d J u l i a M a r t i n Walking out of the house into peeling paint and plastic bags in Mowbray, South Africa, sweet dates scattered on the pavement from the palm tree on the comer, the branches heavy with late summer fruit and starlings. Walking to Rondebosch along the Main Road, the smell of cars and buses, the pavement broken and mended, taxis calling “Claremont, Wynberg ... ,” the Mowbray One Price Store with seven big dolphins newly painted on the glass. Blue sky beyond, and Devil’s Peak huge behind the buildings. Walking toward Rondebosch, oak trees, marigolds, cars, bookshops, cafés, students, ice creams, the Liesbeeck River flowing to the sea. Buy a book from Frances at her shop, talk to Trevor, see Roy carrying a packet of antibiotics. Walking back, mountain in clouds, hot day, traffic fumes. In Mowbray, John is walking his dog. A rock pigeon calls from the telephone pole outside our house; a woman carries a baby on her back; schoolchildren eat chips and drop the packets, walking home. Eihei Dogen, founder of the Japanese Soto School of Zen, says, “If you doubt mountains’ walking, you do not know your own walking; it is not that you do not walk, but that you do not know or understand your own walking. Since you do know your own walking, you should fully know the green mountains’ walking” (“Mountains and Waters Sutra” 98). In Mountains and Rivers without End (1996), Gary Snyder responds to Dogen and to a tradition of Chinese scroll painting that depicted landscapes of mountains and streams. But like the personal, quirky comments written on the Ch’i Shan Wu Chin handscroll in the first poem, “Endless Streams and Mountains,” this response is situated in the complex ecosystem of culture in which Snyder is at home. To inhabit the lineages of Soto Zen poetry and landscape art in this way means realizing their insight in practice. In Zen, the words and forms are signposts, not ends in themselves. If it is alive, the tradition is always being renewed. So the painting and writing of mountains and waters is endless. Big Nature has no end and no beginning: walking on the path and off the trail, leaving home and returning, no final end in sight. W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e S p r in g 2 0 0 5 W ho walks along the road and home again? The following lines appear in “Endless Streams and Mountains” and recur toward the end of the book: Walking on walking, under foot earth turns. Streams and mountains never stay the same. (9, 143, 144, 152) In Mountains and Rivers, the mountains are walking; people, animals, and trees are walking. In cities, homes, and wilderness, walking continues : no self, no nature, no self-nature. Never the same, continuing. Forty years in the making, Mountains and Rivers echoes and reflects on much of the work Snyder has been doing since the 1950s. But al­ though many of the concerns are familiar, the terms in which they are framed make this his most explicitly Buddhist book of poetry. It opens with epigraphs from Tibetan and Zen ancestors Milarepa and Dogen and ends with an explanatory section in which he comments that he has come to see the poem as a sutra. Traditionally, a sutra is a discourse of the Buddha or an expression of Buddha Mind, presenting core teachings. In this case, the avatar of this consciousness is feminine, the whole poem being what Snyder calls “an extended poetic, philosophic, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 55-87
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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