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John Muir on Mt. Ritter, by Gary Snyder

January 18, 1998

After scanning its face again and again,

I began to scale it, picking my holds

With intense caution. About half-way

To the top, I was suddenly brought to

A dead stop, with arms outspread

Clinging close to the face of the rock

Unable to move hand or foot

Either up or down. My doom

Appeared fixed. I MUST fall.

There would be a moment of

Bewilderment, and then,

A lifeless rumble down the cliff

To the glacier below.

My mind seemed to fill with a

Stifling smoke. This terrible eclipse

Lasted only a moment, when life blazed

Forth again with preternatural clearness.

I seemed suddenly to become possessed

Of a new sense. My trembling muscles

Became firm again, every rift and flaw in

The rock was seen as through a microscope,

My limbs moved with a positiveness and precision

With which I seemed to have

Nothing at all to do.

From "No Nature: New and Selected Poems" by Gary Snyder (Pantheon: 392 pp., $14 paper)

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