The poem uses personification and imagery throughout its six lines. Readers are likely to find themselves confused and moved in equal measure as they try to understand the speaker’s perspective on writing and inspiration. But, in the end, ‘How Poetry Comes to Me’ is quite simple and may be relatable to readers who have also engaged with various types of creativity.
Explore How Poetry Comes to Me
‘How Poetry Comes to Me’ by Gary Snyder is a short, impactful poem about what it’s like waiting for and receiving poetic inspiration.
The poem is only six lines long, but through those lines, the poet depicts how poetic inspiration blunders through the woods of his mind, climbing over boulders, and arrives at his fireside. There, it’s too shy to step into the light. He has to get up and walk to the edge of the darkness in order to understand it. The poem is rich in symbolism and requires a bit of analysis and interpretation on the reader’s part to understand how it connects to writing poetry.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘How Poetry Comes to Me’ by Gary Snyder is a six-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse. This means that they do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, there are some examples of repetition such as “the” which ends three of the six lines. This may help create a feeling of rhyme where there isn’t one.
It comes blundering over the
Range of my campfire
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by referring to “it.” Through the reader’s knowledge of the title, it should be clear that the “it” the speaker is talking about his poetry. He immediately personifies poetry as a kind of creature stalking and blundering through the woods. It comes to him this way, animalistic and sudden. It has to climb over the “Boulders at night,” symbols for the various obstacles that keep poetic inspiration from reaching the writer’s conscious mind.
After this struggle, it still doesn’t approach the speaker’s metaphorical campfire. It’s too afraid and cowers outside the range of the fire. The fire symbolizes the speaker’s range of knowledge. He can only truly know and understand what’s lit and warmed by it.
I go to meet it at the
In order to find their poetic inspiration, the speaker has to walk to the edge of the light and risk the darkness. It’s only there, on the edge of what they understand or could possibly comprehend, that their poetry comes to them. This piece is rich with symbolism but also leaves the reader wanting more. The vagueness of “it” and what type of poetic inspiration the speaker is receiving makes the piece quite powerful. It also allows the reader to determine the answers to these questions by themselves.
Throughout this poem, Snyder makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines three and four.
- Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line of verse. It is created through the use of punctuation or through a poet’s use of meter. For example, “Boulders at night, it stays.”
- Personification: can be seen in how the writer depicts poetry as something human-like (or even animal-like (creating an example of zoomorphism)) as it blunders into camp and experiences fear.
- Symbolism: occurs when the poet uses one thing to represent something else. In this case, the speaker uses the “light” at the end of the poem as a way of depicting his conscious understanding of the world. He goes there to meet his poetic inspiration.
The purpose is to explore the nature of poetic inspiration and the process it takes to create/receive it. It’s something ephemeral and easily scared off. Through the lines of the poem, the speaker describes how difficult it is to reach it.
The themes of this poem are creativity and experience. The speaker uses the short lines of the poem to delving meaningfully into what it’s like waiting for and receiving inspiration.
The tone is reverential and descriptive. The speaker acknowledges the steps of poetry coming to him in a direct way. But, it’s also clear through their use of language that this is an important and powerful process.
The meaning is that poetic inspiration is not something that comes easily. Instead, it is animalistic, creeping through the woods and too shy to come close to the “light” of the writer’s mind without effort on their part.
Readers who enjoyed ‘How Poetry Comes to Me’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Tonight I Can Write’ by Pablo Neruda – an emotional poem in which Neruda’s speaker depicts his love, his loneliness, and his hopes.
- ‘Write’ by Carol Ann Duffy – a celebration of love and the power that writing has to depict and understand its emotional intensity.
- ‘To a Blank Sheet of Paper’ by Oliver Wendell Holmes – talks about the power of a blank sheet of paper that can make one happy or sad depending on what a writer writes on it.