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Musings on a few lines of Gary Snyder’s Cold Mountain Poem #16

Musings on a few lines of Gary Snyder’s Cold Mountain Poem #16

This poem is not in the public domain, so I’m unsure if I can post the lines themselves.

But anyhow, if you know or have the poem, or if you enjoy reading analysis, here you go! The following is only based on four short lines from a two-stanza, 7 and 9-line each poem. Personally, I geek out on writing/reading/hearing analysis about structure, so if you’re like me maybe you’ll enjoy????? Haha.


A house is a structure, an establishment. I like how the first line of this first stanza establishes the fact that we are talking about a house, before the further lines add details describing how the house looks. By ending the line mid-sentence at “house,” Snyder allows the reader to meditate on the word “house” and start imagining the setting. Although mid-sentence, the first line is a complete sentence, a complete thought, with the bare bones subject/verb/predicate. As such, it corroborates the idea of the first line constructing the bare bones of the stanza.

The second line starts painting the picture of the setting more. I like how the beginning of the details doesn’t add but subtract – the word “without” signifies the lack of something, and this is how we begin our introduction of the house. If it is devoid of “beams” or “walls,” then how is it a house? We realize that it is not a stereotypical house immediately with this first presented detail. Beams and walls are similar in that they are supporting elements of a building. Without beams, the house lacks the support for a ceiling to close vertically; without walls, the house lacks support for ceiling and protection from the outside… to enclose and define a room.

The second sentence confirms our suspicions of a lack of enclosure! The speaker first opens the sides of the space that begins to be constructed, imagined, in readers’ minds by noting that the doors to the sides are open. The multiple doors elicits the question – how many people live in this house? Why are there so many – six – doors on one floor (assuming simplistically that we are talking about one floor)? The direct mentioning of “left and right” is important; the speaker is actively portraying and emphasizing the spatial aspects of the space. Ending that line with an enjambment at the word “open” is a literal open end of that line, makes us dwell on the meaning/fact that this space is open, and thereby enhances the meaning conveyed. The last line made me think that there might not be a ceiling, or at least glass or some transparent material in lieu of a stereotypical opaque ceiling, if one can see the “blue sky.” Snyder uses a metaphor comparing the hall with “blue sky,” converting a palpable, physical, man-made structure to intangible, natural sky. Sky is perhaps as open as a thing could get, so comparing a hall to a sky is the ultimate opening of a structure. Ending the last two lines of this subsection with “open” and “sky” places emphasis on these words that share the commonality of meaning open, uncovered, spread out.

Without knowing how the rest of this stanza or poem unfolds, and without placing “16” in context of 1-15, we recognize that the author is emphasizing a lack of structure. This house, we are led to understand, is unique, different from our stereotypical image of a house in which there would at least be walls. Perhaps reading more of the poem would lead us to understand why there was such an emphasis on the structural openness of the house. Something about the structure of the house itself? Or as a parallel to another category of openness (i.e. something else the speaker wants to talk about might be “open” in a way too, so having the structure of the house mimic the meaning of open could be a nice tactic to buttress the overall meaning).


Didn’t proofread, just free-form wrote, real fast. Excuse the improper grammar at times. Hope you enjoyed reading!



© Kate Eunah Lee, 4/15/2018

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