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Gary Snyder Explains His Poem 'For All'

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Poet Gary Snyder in his Nevada City, California, home.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

On Dec. 5, poet Gary Snyder will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame. Snyder spoke to Capital Public Radio about his life and writing. As part of the conversation, Snyder read his poem "For All," and explained the process of writing and the meaning behind it.

Click play above to hear Snyder read the poem and explain its origin and meaning. Below you can read the poem, and click the button to show or hide Snyder's comments. 

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For All

Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

I was up in the Northern Rockies, in the southern Yellowstone, backpacking with a friend in late September, one year, which is really already getting very cold up there. So that was “fording the stream,” and thinking how wonderful it was to just have your icy cold toes there in the whole continent of North America.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

It came back to me what used to say in school about pledging allegiance; really a lovely thing to say. So, I said in the poem “I pledge allegiance.” But what do I pledge allegiance to? The soil, the whole thing, the whole continent.

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,

'Of Turtle Island,' the old name for the whole continent, which includes Canada and Mexico.

and to the beings who thereon dwell

All of the beings, not just the human beings.

one ecosystem

Maybe it’s not really the right way to use the term ecosystem, I think now, but I’ll leave it. “One ecosystem” certainly it’s “in diversity.” 

in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.

Certainly 'it’s under the sun with joyful interpenetration for all,' because it’s never one thing just exploiting another thing, it's always a two-way exchange. And that is the term interpenetration.

So, that’s my little poem of making, seeing, feeling all of North America as a community.

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