Gary Snyder

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout by Gary Snyder

‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout’ by Gary Snyder is a beautiful two-stanza poem. In it, the speaker conveys descriptions from the top of Sourdough Mountain.

The speaker also spends a few lines mentioning details about himself. This fact allows readers to consider the situation in a new light. But, one is still left with several questions in regard to who this person is and what brought him to the mountain. ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout’ also uses simple, easy-to-understand language throughout. 

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout by Gary Snyder


Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout’ by Gary Snyder is a short and peaceful poem told from the perspective of someone on a mountain top.

In the first lines of the poem, the speaker describes his surroundings. He’s looking out from Sourdough Mountain on the valley and considering the weather. As the poem progresses, these first lines obtain context. The speaker describes how the few friends he has are elsewhere, somewhere in cities, and apparently living a very different life from the one he is. 

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

Down valley a smoke haze


Swarms of new flies.

In the first stanza of ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout,’ the speaker begins by describing a “valley” filled with a smoke haze. The speaker does not judge the landscape or express a clear opinion about it. He is analyzing what’s there and conveying it in poetic terms. But, there is something reverential about these lines. He’s taking the time to describe everything from how long it’s been since it rained to the image of “rocks and meadows” and “Swarms of new flies.” 

Stanza Two 

I cannot remember things I once read   


Through high still air.

In the second stanza of ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout,’ the speaker switches into the first person to convey some of his feelings in regard to his situation. Again, he doesn’t use very much emotion. He discusses how now he’s alone. His friends are in the cities, and he’s, in some ways, moved on from a life he used to know. But distancing his friends and saying that he “cannot remember things” he once read, he is alluding to his age and what’s changed throughout his life. 

The poem ends with a three-line depiction of what he’s doing at that moment. These lines are a wonderful example of imagery. He describes drinking “snow-water from a tin cup” while in the Sourdough Mountain lookout and enjoying the “high still air.” This is a peaceful moment that’s memorialized in the lines of the poem. 

Structure and Form 

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout’ by Gary Snyder is a two stanza poem that is divided into sets of five lines, known as quintains. These quintains are written in free verse. This means that the poem does not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.

Literary Devices 

Throughout this piece, the poet 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 of the first stanza as well as lines three and four of the second stanza. 
  • Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “haze” and “heat” in the first two lines and “remember” and “read” in the first line of the second stanza. 
  • Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse. For example, “A few friends, but they are in cities.”
  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Down valley a smoke haze / Three days heat, after five days rain.” It is one of the most important devices at work in this poem.


What is the tone of ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout?’ 

The tone is peaceful and clear. The speaker uses easy-to-understand descriptions and gracefully describes what he’s seeing and experiencing. 

What is the purpose of ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout?’

The purpose is to explore a specific moment and the sensations accompanying it. These include the cold of the snow and the warmth of “Three day heat.” 

What imagery is used in ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout?’

Examples of imagery in this poem include “Down valley a smoke haze / Three days heat, after five days rain.” 

Who is the speaker in ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout?’

The speaker is someone who is standing in a lookout tower on “Sourdough Mountain.” This could be a fire lookout or an abandoned observation post of some kind. They appreciate the moment they’re in and think about their life and past. 

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout’ should also consider reading some other Gary Snyder poems. For example:

  • How Poetry Comes to Me’ – a thoughtful poem about receiving inspiration told from the perspective of the poet himself. 
  • Some other related poems include: 
  • Mountain Life’ by Henrik Ibsen – describes a mountain paradise that is separate from contact with the outside world and place host to isolated, peace-loving farmers.
  • The Mountain’ by Elizabeth Bishop – a poem portraying the transience of nature and life from the viewpoint of a personified mountain.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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