A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 7 June 2008


Linda Cracknell over at Walking And Writing was kind enough to link me in her latest post. We were both citing Gary Snyder's very fine poem Riprap. Linda's blog entries over the past few months had caused this poem to float into my consciousness. Like Linda's texts it connects the working hands of both writer and trail-maker, and interweaves texture of word and mind, and rock and stone. The processes of natural genesis and geological upheaval are compared with artistic and artisanal creation.

Riprap: a cobble of stone laid on steep, slick rock to make a trail for horses in the mountains.


Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time;
Solidity of bark, leaf or wall
riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
straying planets,
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
Dragging saddles
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

In the year 1955 Snyder worked as a trail crew labourer in Yosemite National Park. He writes in an Afterword to his collection Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems: In a curious mind of renunciation and long day's hard work with shovel, pick, dynamite and boulder, my language relaxed into itself. I began to be able to meditate, nights, after work, and I found myself writing some poems that surprised me. This collection registers those moments... The title Riprap celebrates the work of hands, the placing of rock, and my first glimpse of the image of the whole universe as interconnected, interpenetrating, mutually reflecting and mutually embracing. There is no doubt that my readings of Chinese poems, with their monosyllabic step-by-step placement, their crispness - and the clatter of mule hooves - all fed this style.

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