Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout by Gary Snyder: Summary and Critical Analysis

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout by Gary Snyder is a quiet meditative type of poem in which the persona meditates upon a landscape that he describes. The poem begins like a descriptive poem, but is a serious meditation upon an American rural landscape, and upon the people who have literally and metaphorically left it behind when they went after the lure of the city civilization.

Gary Snyder (Born: 8 May 1930)

At the literal level, the poem is perhaps appealing to the ‘local’ readers who know these landscapes or to those the sort of mental picture and accompanying feelings will be evoked. This poem is a very good example of imagistic poetry for its visual expression. Divided into two stanzas, the poem captures a moment that fuses two experiences of the speaker: the present and the past, physical and mental. The poet depicts a clear picture of the scene that has gone past five day’s rain and three days’ heat, now smoke rising up from the valley, road shining, swarms of new flies flying all over. The persona positions him on the top of a hill from which he is visualizing the vista. Perhaps this scene tickles him about his past, company of friends, merrymaking and much more.

 But memory is like surrounding. He is lost in the present, forgets what he read in the past. We can trace a sense of isolation when he thinks that these colleagues are in cities. The last three lines capture the romantic mood of the speaker who is now lost in his present state, enjoying the cold snow water and a sight of the valley. The poem echoes William Carlos Williams ‘Red Wheelbarrow’ for its amazing capture of the moment. The reader experiences this moment as lively as the speaker feels. The poem can also be read as an instance of the poetic creation itself. The persona, with his imagination capable of creating the world beyond the horizons, is a typical romantic being.

The first stanza is typically descriptive; and second stanza is meditative. Snyder creates a mosaic with different, images attached together like ‘smoked haze’, ‘heat,’ ‘rain’, ‘glowing pitch’, ‘fit-cones,’ ‘rock meadows ‘flies’ in the first stanza which make a complete scene. This scenario reminds the speaker of his friends, those with whom he grew up and befriended as a child and young man. He cannot remember things and all his friends. Many friends are now in the cities. Then he imagines that his friends might be drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup. This clue in the poem suggests that the speaker is not familiar with the life and standards of the city people. What he describes as “snow-water…… from tin cup” may mean beer in tin cans. This reminds us of the deep influence of Japanese haiku for its accuracy of explanation of physical experiences.

The speaker further imagines that his friends may be “looking down for miles/through high still air”. This imagination is also ironical. Despite his simple-minded faith in his past friends, it is unlikely the busy city people will have time to remember this poor friend back in the village. But the idea of the thing is better than the thing itself! The persona’s sweet memories and the hope that the friends are still looking back towards the village is striking.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout by Gary Snyder: Summary and Critical Analysis" BachelorandMaster, 9 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/mid-august-at-sourdough-mountain-lookout.html.

Related Topic

Gary Snyder: Biography