Most people go through life with their eyes closed, so to speak, never stopping to see the beautiful world around them. However, the people that do stop and observe the beauty often do great things with the knowledge from their experience. Two people that have done just that are Gary Snyder and Mary Oliver. Both Snyder and Oliver have written about their experience with nature. Although they have different backgrounds, write in different ways, and have different ideas of the places around them both share the belief that place in life is a very significant thing.
Gary Snyder s work shows great influences from his strong belief in Zen Buddhism. In 1956 Snyder moved to Japan for twelve years to study Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Throughout the twelve years Snyder got the chance to spend six months in Sojourn, India, where he met the Dalai Lama in 1962. Since Snyder returned to the United States in 1969 he has fought for peace, environmental awareness, and freedom from nuclear weaponry. In Snyder s The world is Places essay his sense of place is greatly recognized. His love for place and the calmness in his writings both sprout from his belief in Zen Buddhism.
On the other hand, Mary Oliver has a different background from Snyder. Oliver was educated at Vassar College a prestigious women s college known for its graduates in the arts, particularly writes and actors. Throughout the eighties Mary taught at Case Western Reserve University, during which she wrote many books also. Also, the New York poet Edna St. Vincent heavily influences Oliver s work.
The similarities between Snyder and Oliver s work are very broad and apparent. The most obvious one being they both hold and speak of place with high regard. An example in Snyder s The World is Places would be him stating, Our place is part of what we are. Snyder goes on to explain that place shapes people into who they are now. His example being a child gradually parting from home, yet home always being with them. Snyder s accurate and vivid description of place displays the care that was taken when writing the essay. The attention and care taken within the details shows the high regard Snyder has for place. While in Mary Oliver s Humpbacks she starts her poem with There is, all around us, this country of original fire. Oliver is subtler in her description of place, yet her regard for place is equally shown. Oliver, like Snyder, also pays close attention to detail and manages to captivate her reader with her experience. Oliver s ability to make the reader feel a part of the experience is a prime example of the passion used in writing her poem. Both Snyder and Oliver cherish place in a way most people don t. However different they might say it, together Snyder and Oliver s sense of place create a pleasing description of place. Snyder s idea that Our place is what we are. can be interpreted in many ways, but always leads back to place as being gratifying. Oliver describes place as being something that …stops at nothing Which holds not only truth, but makes one think. Both Snyder and Oliver also give detailed explanations of their surroundings while speaking of place. Snyder goes in detail about the thought process one goes through when thinking about home. Oliver goes into detail about a place where humpback whales rise to surface level, sing, and return to the deep.
Although Snyder and Oliver share a love for place they convey their experiences in different ways. Gary Snyder speaks of place as an experience Mary Oliver one the other hand talks of experience as a place. Snyder expresses in the first line of The World is Places that We experience slums, prairies, and wetlands all equally as places. Throughout the essay Snyder also goes on to say that place is home; where people grew up. Backing the statement Snyder said that the heart of the home is the firepit, the hearth and it is back to the fireside that elders return. Snyder makes the assumption that home is a place cherished and loved by all. He leads the reader to believe that the place where one lives is what shapes that person into adulthood. Snyder implies place as a real emotion separate from all others. Mary Oliver speaks of place in a very different fashion. Oliver writes not of place as an experience but of experience as place. Particularly how the experience of whale watching made an effect on her. While describing her experience, Oliver, remembers We wait, not knowing just where it will happen shouting for joy you realize it is yourself for some unbelievable part of a moment against the sky – like nothing you ve ever imagined This experience of seeing breaching whales has made an astounding effect on Oliver, one that she did not expect. Later in the poem Oliver articulates just how much she s been effected by the experience by stating, Listen nothing in life will ever dazzle you like the dreams of your body even the great whale, throbs with song.
Place and experience are both powerful things and when combined they form memories that last a lifetime. For Gary Snyder home will always be his place, whereas Mary Oliver will see her experience with whales as her place. Place being as it is will always stay with a person forever.