Axe Handle by Gary Snyder

With the idea that a poem is never out of place , not that I am much of a reader, and that it can never be predicted in what way it may strike any one in particular, I’m just going to post this one over.

Axe Handles

One afternoon the last week in April

Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet

One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.

He recalls the hatchet-head

Without a handle, in the shop

And go gets it, and wants it for his own.

A broken-off axe handle behind the door

Is long enough for a hatchet,

We cut it to length and take it

With the hatchet head And working hatchet, to wood block.

There I begin to shape the old handle

With the hatchet, and the phrase

First learned from Ezra Pound

Rings in my ears!

“When making an axe handle

the pattern is not far off.”

And I say this to Kai

“Look: We’ll shape the handle

By checking the handle

Of the axe we cut with-”

And he sees. And I hear it again:

It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century

A.D. “Essay on Literature”-in the

Preface: “In making the handle

Of an axe

By cutting wood with an axe

The model is indeed near at hand.”

My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen

Translated that and taught it years ago

And I see: Pound was an axe,

Chen was an axe,I am an axe

And my son a handle, soon

To be shaping again,

model And tool,

craft of culture,

How we go on.

— Gary Snyder

9 thoughts on “Axe Handle by Gary Snyder

  1. There was a man, maybe he was thinking,he sat at a desk in front of an old clock, where in letters of gold the hour was noon. As luck he happened to look at it just at noon. Now consider the clock was not running properly…There was this old clock whose History was always a mystery. Although no one knew how, with a characteristically human sort of behaviour, the man composed a small treatise on its History.

  2. But you rang my bell… Or ? And if you press this suggestion I can try to tell you why I had linked our present rationality on axes with something political, just as you did tend to do. Or ?
    It can do no harm to try although it would probably give me pain. And there seems but two objections, for years I studied my awful books but now I long to play with my axes and stay on my back inducing myself to leave the world beyond like an innocuous individual. But they’d say ” don’t you see what a selfish man you may be” which would certainly not soothe my remorses.
    The second objection is that I may maximise the native English speaker’s bad luck in respect of discrepancies of translation from Taco English to Oxbridge English. Words are notoriously ill matched between those two remote languages, not to render more complicated some of the sophisticated questions involving anthropology (not to be understood as those special studies, but as to what is inspired by a conception of humanity).

  3. You had better go ahead then, it’s not good to repress.

    Oh, I have some curious things around here I want to let you see in light of your coming restorations. I’ll make pictures and send them though these things are all stacked up in a dark unused corner of the stall so maybe there is little to make out.

  4. It would just be an attempt to refrain foundationalism, in more than one way. People like to feel that what they read is a quest for the truth. I would just substitute a mythology by other mythologies (which I have more sympathy for). That would be what I would encourage, with some
    arguments nonetheless. And perhaps, some disambiguated views on the way. I have major reasons for rejecting the explanatory process, but I just felt sometimes that a nice blog like yours diserve a tao of the axe with a “picaresque grandeur”.

    “Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off forever from everything you had known once -somewhere- far away in another existence perhaps. There were moments when one’s past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare to yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect.”

    ― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

    One of my favorite… And thank you for your concern with my restoration plans.

  5. One more for the sake of our spirituality :
    Translated by Fanny Fuller.



    A hedge of hazel-nut bushes encircled the garden; without was field and meadow, with cows and sheep; but in the centre of the garden stood a rose-tree, and under it sat a snail–she had much within her, she had herself.

    “Wait, until my time comes,” said she, “I shall accomplish something more than putting forth roses, bearing nuts, or giving milk, like the cows and sheep!”

    “I expect something fearfully grand,” said the rose-tree, “may I ask when it will take place?”

    “I shall take my time,” said the snail, “you are in too great a hurry, and when this is the case, how can one’s expectations be fulfilled?”

    The next year the snail lay in about the same spot under the rose-tree, which put forth buds and developed roses, ever fresh, ever new. The snail half crept forth, stretched out its feelers and drew itself in again.

    “Everything looks as it did a year ago! No progress has been made; the rose-tree still bears roses; it does not get along any farther!”

    The summer faded away, the autumn passed, the rose-tree constantly bore flowers and buds, until the snow fell, and the weather was raw and damp. The rose-tree bent itself towards the earth, the snail crept in the earth.

    A new year commenced; the roses came out, and the snail came out.

    “Now you are an old rose bush,” said the snail, “you will soon die away. You have given the world everything that you had in you; whether that be much or little is a question, upon which I have not time to reflect. But it is quite evident, that you have not done the slightest thing towards your inward developement; otherwise I suppose that something different would have sprung from you. Can you answer this? You will soon be nothing but a stick! Can you understand what I say?”

    “You startle me,” said the rose-tree, “I have never thought upon that!”

    “No, I suppose that you have never meddled much with thinking! Can you tell me why you blossom? And how it comes to pass? How? Why?”

    “No,” said the rose-tree, “I blossom with pleasure because I could not do otherwise. The sun was so warm, the air so refreshing, I drank the clear dew and the fortifying rain; I breathed, I lived! A strength came to me from the earth, a strength came from above, I felt a happiness, ever new, ever great and therefore I must blossom ever, that was my life, I could not do otherwise!”

    “You have led a very easy life!” said the snail.

    “Certainly, everything has been given to me,” said the rose-tree, “but still more has been given to you. You are one of those meditative, pensive, profound natures, one of the highly gifted, that astound the whole world!”

    “I have assuredly no such thought in my mind,” said the snail, “the world is nothing to me! What have I to do with the world? I have enough with myself, and enough in myself!”

    “But should we not all, here on earth, give the best part of us to others? Offer what we can!–It is true, that I have only given roses–but you? You who have received so much, what have you given to the world? What do you give her?”

    “What I have given? What I give? I spit upon her! She is good for nothing! I have nought to do with her. Put forth roses, you can do no more! Let the hazel bushes bear nuts! Let the cows and sheep give milk; they have each their public, I have mine within myself! I retire within myself, and there I remain. The world is nothing to me!”

    And thereupon the snail withdrew into her house and closed it.

    “That is so sad,” said the rose-tree, “with the best will, I cannot creep in, I must ever spring out, spring forth in roses. The leaves drop off and are blown away by the wind. Yet, I saw one of the roses laid in the hymn-book of the mother of the family; one of my roses was placed upon the breast of a charming young girl, and one was kissed with joy by a child’s mouth. This did me so much good, it was a real blessing! That is my recollection, my life!”

    And the rose-tree flowered in innocence, and the snail sat indifferently in her house. The world was nothing to her.

    And years passed away. The snail became earth to earth and the rose-tree became earth to earth; the remembrances in the hymn-book were also blown away–but new rose-trees bloomed in the garden, new snails grew in the garden; they crept in their houses and spat.–The world is nothing to them.

    Shall we read the story of the past again? It will not be different.

    THE END.

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