Gary Snyder's anthology, "Turtle Island"
Recently, I read the anthology "Turtle Island" written by Gary
Snyder. Gary Snyder is a poet and a priest of the Zen sect. His book "Turtle
Island" won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975. So, this book was
written a few decades ago, in the heyday of the Beat Generation. It is one
of the most popular anthologies and has had an influence on American literature
after the 1970's. By accident, I stumbled across the poem "The Bath",
that sings the praises of life and the human body within this anthology.
I was deeply impressed with this poem.
Gary Snyder denies modern culture and acts on his conviction that people
should coexist with nature, and he began life anew at the foot of the Sierra
Nevada in northern California. I'll let Gary explain. "When Native
American thinkers and activists began to cease to use the word North America
and to call the continent "Turtle Island" a few decades ago, it
came to many of us as a wonderfully constructive move. The name itself comes
from a number of Creation tales told by the Amerindian people... I learned
to see one place to learn how to live, and see things as they are."
He writes about the cancer of exploitation of heavy industry of perpetual
growth of modern civilization that is in crisis, and the historical transfiguration
of one place. And, he proposed a new lifestyle; adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle.
By the way, it's of interest to me, how the Westerners accepted the
wilderness? The wilderness, the wasteland, the howling wilderness, is just
the opposite of Paradise in the Christian cultural sphere. Eve was banished
from the paradise with Adam, as you know. For the American settlers, the
wilderness was reclaimed, and it was said to be the "manifest destiny"
of Americans to change it to paradise. They called this task the "errand
into wilderness" for them. Paradise has an equal in the Golden Age
of Greek mythology written by Hesiod (8th century BC). According to this
myth, the distress Iron Age was the fifth age. And, the Golden Age was the
first age. The history of mankind was deteriorating in the Western culture,
in contrast to the Oriental culture. According to Hesiod, the Golden Age
ended when Pandora opened the box and the evil, which until then had been
known was scattered everywhere. Next, after the Golden Age, came the Silver
Age, the Bronze Age and the Heroic Age. Then the Iron Age came at last.
In other words, to change the wilderness to the paradise of the Golden Age,
reclamation and development was necessary and this is the root of the view
of nature in Western culture.
Because the wilderness was lost rapidly, the anxious trend about the
destruction of the wilderness rose in the West. Gary Snyder mastered Zen
Buddhism whose intention is that the power is denied. He chose the wilderness
in place of the counter situation of modern Western thought and he found
an acceptable way of life in that place. I think it is natural for him to
do so, belonging as he does to the beatnik generation. I envy him for having
such a wonderful life as a poet. But, I am not one hundred percent in agreement
with his chosen lifestyle, because I live a secular life.