Thomas Parkinson: On "Riprap"

RIPRAP is Snyder's first book. The title means "a cobble of stone laid on steep slick rock / to make a trail for horses in the mountains" In the last poem in the book he wrote of Poetry as a riprap on the slick rock of metaphysics, the reality of perceived surface that grants men staying power and a gripping point:


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 . . . [R, p. 30]


The body of the mind—this is the province of poetry, a riprap on the abstractions of the soul that keeps men in tune with carnal eloquence. Snyder's equation is one of proportions: poetry is to metaphysics as riprap is to slick rock. Things and thoughts are not then in opposition but in parallel:


                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 [R, p. 30].

The aim is not to achieve harmony with nature but to create an inner harmony that equals to the natural external harmony. There is not then an allegorical relation between man and natural reality but an analogical one: a man does not identify with a tree nor does he take the tree to be an emblem of his own psychic condition; he establishes within himself a condition that is equivalent to that of the tree, and there metaphysics rushes in. Only poetry can take us through such slippery territory, and after RIPRAP Snyder tries to find a guide in his Myths & Texts. RIPRAP was an engaging uneven first book of poems. It is still in print and deserves to be so, but it lacks unity of impact and style, however proper its intentions.


Title Thomas Parkinson: On "Riprap" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Thomas Parkinson Criticism Target Gary Snyder
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Poetry of Gary Snyder
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