Gary Snyder’s “What Have I Learned”

I think I share many of the same beliefs that Gary Snyder holds, though I’m sometimes amazed at how two people who have traveled such different paths could end up with such similar beliefs. Though we both grew up in the Pacific Northwest and California and share a love of the Cascades, our paths could hardly have been more different. I have been as conventional in my actions as Snyder has been unconventional.

Perhaps age gives us insights. Having made a lifetime of mistakes, one hopes to have learned something, and as one ages one realizes that the only way to keep anything is to pass it on:


WHAT HAVE I LEARNED
What have I learned but
the proper use for several tools?

The moments
between hard pleasant tasks

To sit silent, drink wine,
and think my own kind
of dry crusty thoughts.

-the first Calochortus flowers
and in all the land,
it's spring.
I point them out:
the yellow petals, the golden hairs
to Gen.

Seeing in silence:
never the same twice,
but when you get it right,

you pass it on.

It’s hard not to look back and fear we have passed on things we didn’t get right, but in the end we hope that we can pass on those things that we have gotten right, otherwise such wisdom is wasted.

8 thoughts on “Gary Snyder’s “What Have I Learned”

  1. I think it’s actually the “dry, crusty thoughts” that caught me, though perhaps the wine had more effect than I thought, brian.

  2. I’m sorry but this poem is not translated into my language. What exactly means: “seeing in silence: never the same twice” ?

    • Seeing silence refers back to the third stanza.

      Never the same twice suggests that every flower is unique, is one of a kind. We can never see anything exactly the “same” as we did before. When we see its essence we need to “pass it on.”

        • I like poems from beat generation and so on, but not all of them are translated in my language and I find it difficult to translate poems, because there are so many possibilities – you know it – one word may means so many different words in other language and that is why I need help sometimes, so I apologize for that once more and thank you.

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