on September 7, 2000
I have some ambivalence about giving Snyder 5 stars for this work. I come to this collection of poems after reading "Turtle Island", which I liked better overall. It had a bit more of the wide-eyed innocence that makes the poetry more heart-felt to me, even with that whole section at the end dedicated to prose on how to make the world a better place.
I found several poems in "Mountains..." that I like better than the ones in "Turtle Island" - particularly pieces like "Ma", which takes the form of a letter from a mother to son. What I didn't like so much was the pervasive use of East Indian and Oriental terms, much of which had little meaning to me. Recognizing a certain desire on Snyder's part to "disorient" a traveller through the literature helped somewhat. But often I felt Snyder was abusing his "superstar" status to make these foreign phrases seem more important than they actually are. How difficult can it be to just say what you want to say without resorting to another language? Snyder certainly has many tools at his disposal - the sum of which comes under the heading of "Poetic License".
Admittedly, languages are not solid, and new words creep in all the time. Perhaps Snyder feels he is just doing his part to force the issue with regard to some patterns of thought he wants insinnuated into western english. But I don't think it comes off that way all the time. Many times it just sounds like: "Aren't I clever to come up with this deep-meaning foreign phrase that you don't understand". This detracted some from the total effect in the book.
Ultimately, that's just me of course. One must do one's own thinking on these matters. And since I gave the thing 4 stars, it obviously still comes highly recomended from my viewpoint.
on February 25, 2002
Written over forty years, MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS WITHOUT END is poet Gary Snyder's highest achievment. Here he has presented a perception of the world that has taken four decades of experience to put into words. The collection moves chronologically from Snyder's glimpse in the 50's of a Japanese scroll that gave the book its name, though his wanderings in the American West, and into senescene.
Decades of travel have exposure Snyder to so much of our planet, and this experience forms a major part of MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS WITHOUT END. Mixing ecological perspective with Buddhist metaphysics, these poems are a powerful description of Man's relationship with the planet. Snyder is supremely aware of how attached mankind is to the Earth, and how its ever-surrounding landscape influences peoples.
The final poem "Finding the Space in the Heart" is a moving retrospective of Gary Snyder's forty years as a writer, from his Beat poet days in the 1950's to the older man that he is now, using elements of Buddhism's Prajnaparamita-sutra, the so called "Heart Sutra."
While Snyder's poems sometimes do not succeed due to clumsy meter, a lacking that makes me give this work only four stars, they often move the reader with their sincerity and signifance. MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS WITHOUT END is certainly worth a read.