Gary Snyder
(born May 8, 1930)

Gary Snyder (born 1930):
"The Persimmons" from Left Out in the Rain (1986)

I attended my first poetry reading in California on Friday, November 28, 1986 at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I thank my former student Charles Beck for telling me to go and hear Gary Snyder read his poetry. Charlie was a grad student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute where I taught Chemistry. When teaching Chemical Statistical Mechanics (Spring 1979), I discovered the metaphysical poems of James Clerk Maxwell and shared it with the class. Charlie was delighted and gave me photocopies of Gary Snyder's translations of Han-shan's Cold Mountain Poems (1969). Gary Snyder read 24 poems from his Left Out in the Rain, the last one being "The Persimmons". This poem is not available on the web. I had typed it back in 1986, but it's on a 5-1/4 inch disk that no longer retrievable on computers at Stanford or Foothill College. So I'm retyping it below to accompany my web page (1996) on Six Persimmons (1270) by Mu Ch'i. I've compared the mind of Mu Ch'i, his painting, and Snyder's "Persimmon" poem and will not repeat them here. What I like about this poem is how Snyder relates a common experience of buying a persimmon with scientific data (nitrogen to feed the persimmon tree taking seven years to bear fruit) and a rich panorama of Chinese history. Before reading this poem, Snyder said "When I asked the Chinese tour guides why there are no trees on the mountain near the Great Wall of China, they told me that no trees ever grew there. But I knew better. My research showed that trees were deforested on that mountain in the 13th century by Genghis Khan's time." I was sitting on the floor a foot away from Snyder when he told this story at Kepler's. It was a sad commentary that the Chinese tour guides impoverished by a decade of the Cultural Revolution were not aware of their own history, while an American poet in tune with the Tao and Zen was more imbued with the Oriental spirit. The poem is rich in contrast such as "the old man laughing" and "infant-soft skin" of the persimmon as well as man-made "coin" in exchange for nature's wealth of "fruit". Snyder autographed two copies of his book for me, and personalized one copy to Charlie and Charlotte Beck, my student who shared his Cold Mountain poems and wrote me from back East to attend Gary Snyder's poetry reading. We chatted for ten minutes before he left for the hills. (Peter Y. Chou)

The Persimmons

In a cove reaching back between ridges
the persimmon groves:
leaves rust-red in October
ochre and bronze
scattering down from the
hard slender limbs of this
slow-growing hardwood
that takes so much nitrogen
and seven years to bear,
and plenty of water all summer
to be bearing so much and so well
as these groves are this autumn.
Gathered in yar-wide baskets
of loose open weave
with mounds of persimmons just picked
still piled on the ground.
On tricycle trucks
pedaled so easy and slow down the lanes,
"Deep tawnie cullour" of sunset
each orb some light left from summer
glowing on brown fall ground,
the persimmons are flowing
on streams of more bike-trucks
til they riffle and back up
alongside a car road
and are spread on the gravel by sellers.
The kind with a crease round the middle,
Tamoan, sweet when soft,
ripening down from the top to the base.
Persimmons and farmers
a long busy line on the roadside,
in season, a bargain, a harvest
of years, the peace of
this autumn again, familiar,
when found by surprise at
the tombs of the dead Ming emperors.
Acres of persimmon orchards
surrounding the tumuli
of kings who saw to it they kept on consuming
even when empty and gone.
The persimmons outlive them,
but up on the hills
where the Great Wall wanders
the oaks had been cut for lumber or charcoal
by Genghis Khan's time.
People and persimmon orchards prevail.
I walked the Great Wall today,
and went deep in the dark of a tomb.
And then found a persimmon
ripe to the bottom
one of a group on a rough plaited tray
that might have been drawn by Mu Ch'i,
tapping its infant-soft skin
to be sure that it's ready,
the old man laughing,
he sees that I like my persimmons.
I trade him some coin
for this wealth of fall fruit
lined up on the roadside to sell to the tourists
who have come to see tombs,
and are offered as well
the people and trees that prevail.

                    Beijing, People's Republic

Gary Snyder (born 1930),
     Left Out in the Rain (1986)
     New Directions, NY, 1986, pp. 149-151

Gary Snyder, UC Davis English Department
Gary Snyder, "Prayer for the Great Family" (1974)
Poems at Gary Snyder Workshop (March 24, 1990)
Snyder's "Riprap" (1969) on May 8 Date Page
Wikipedia: Gary Snyder

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P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (3-7-2007)