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.

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  1. How does the poet connect language to the physical world in the poem?
  2. What does “the body of the mind” suggest to you?
  3. In the lines “The worlds like an endless / four-dimensional / Game of Go”, the poet is referencing a Chinese board game that has been played for over two thousand years. Look it up and consider what the poet is saying about the worlds (note Snyder chooses the plural!). What kind of game is this?
  4. If the poet is reading the landscape, what do you think its story is?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, what tone would you use? Would you change the tone as you moved through the poem? Where?
  6. Spend some time outside and write a poem about the landscape near you. Imagine each rock is a word; what is it telling you?

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Copyright © 2009 by Gary Snyder from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint.

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