The sour smell,
water squirts out round the wedge,
Lifting quarters of rounds
covered with ants,
"a living glove of ants upon my hand"
the poll of the sledge a bit peened over
so the wedge springs off and tumbles
ringing like high-pitched bells
into the complex duff of twigs
poison oak, bark, sawdust,
shards of logs,
And the sweat drips down.
Smell of crushed ants.
The lean and heave on the peavey
that breaks free the last of a bucked
it lies flat of smashed oaklings -
Wedge and sledge, peavey and maul,
little axe, canteen, piggyback can
of saw-mix gas and oil for the chain,
knapsack of files and goggles and rags,
All to gather the dead and the down.
the young men throw splits on the piles
bodies hardening, learning the pace
and the smell of tools from this delve
in the winter
death-topple of elderly oak.
Snyder's poem describes the process of cutting wood for a fire, four cords worth, in detail that acutely engages the senses. Physical touch sensation is well-represented, as are sight, sound, and smell. The images are hale and earthy, and apart from tools to run a chainsaw, this could be a scene from nearly any time in human history.
The poem is easy to read, and uses little in the way of unfamiliar language or complex poetic device. For the most part, it is a simple inventory of tasks and sensations associated with the cutting of wood, and in the last stanza, we feel a sense of new growth, in the young men learning how to cut the wood, their "bodies hardening" as they work away at the "winter death-topple of elderly oak."
This poem does have one of the most cringe-inducing lines I've ever encountered, though. "a living glove of ants upon my hand" I can think of very few things that make me want to go wash more than that.