Thursday, April 30, 2015

NPM: Axe Handles

Stol'n from Classic Home Builders

To close out National Poetry Month 2015, we have a short piece by Beat poet, environmentalist, and dharma anarchist Gary Snyder, composed in his middle age. Maybe I'm posting it as an answer to something, or an explanation. Or because I've never been able to convey the notion that the present consists of transmissions of the past reaching toward the future as vividly as Mr. Snyder.

Axe Handles
Gary Snyder (1930 – )

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 the 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 Wên 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.

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