I fell in love with Transcendentalism my freshman year of high school. My class was taught by the loveliest older gentleman who was a character straight out of a Wes Anderson film. He was a former drug addicted rock band bassist turned Buddhist literature professor. Every day he wore varying shades of corduroy pants and cardigans or sweater vests. I went to an arts high school, so our classroom sizes were small and when he could tell we were having a rough day, he would forgo the lesson and just play the piano in the back corner of the class and let us doze off or catch up on homework. There, we studied Self Reliance, Walden Pond, Song of Myself, among many, many others.
When I majored in English, we would reread them occasionally and it would instantly take me back to that little high school classroom miles and miles away. I’m ashamed that I haven’t gone back to those readings more on my own. When Sam and I started dating, I gave him my copy of Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson with all my favorite passages underlined and that was the last time I’ve picked it up. I wanted to branch out this month so I picked a transcendental book of poetry by a contemporary writer, Gary Snyder. Turtle Island is not your mother’s transcendental writings, it focuses more on our physical impact on nature rather than natures’ emotional impact on us. It can feel pretty heavy at times, and others you get a hint of the familiar “sublime” that comes with Transcendental literature.
I found Snyder himself wildly interesting, he was raised in the Pacific Northwest and even from an early age was deeply disturbed by deforestation and threw himself into studies of preservation and human’s relationship to nature throughout time. His passion for the environment comes across clearly in Turtle Island, so if you’re in the market for a nature-centered book of poetry for the summer, definitely give it a read!