THE RUCKSACK REVOLUTION: Art imitates life in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums


The Beatniks


Run-on sentences

“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray.”

As with Kerouac’s On the Road, the 1957 roman à clef that immortalizes his various travels with the inimitable, Roman-candle-in-human-form Neal Cassady in the character of Dean Moriarty, his 1958 novel The Dharma Bums does something similar for Gary Snyder with the character of Japhy Ryder.

Pulitzer Prize winning poet, essayist, and environmental activist, Snyder is the man who first introduced Kerouac to Buddism, a topic the novel discusses in relative detail. Talk of Nirvana, meditating dogs, and the dichotomy between city and country life casts these (sometimes fictionalized) events in Kerouac’s life in a more peaceable, less drug and alcohol-infused light than those of On the Road.



“The dogs meditated on their paws. We were all absolutely quiet. The entire moony countryside was frosty silent, not even the little tick of rabbits or coons anywhere. An absolute cold blessed silence.”

The protagonist, Ray Smith, an ill-disguised Kerouac, is a young freethinker bumming around from city to city, attending three-day parties and rambling about wherever the breeze blows him. Ryder, a tireless mountaineer and Zen master, is reminiscent of Cassady in that both Japhy and Dean spend the better part of each respective novel offering their infinite wisdom to the protagonist, molding and shaping Kerouac’s mind and writings.



Japhy’s enlightened Buddhist musings are at one time pretentious gibberish to the reader for whom Buddhist teachings are unfamiliar while also being mind-altering in a positive and reverential way for the true Kerouacian. Like a polished mirror, Kerouac’s words have highly powerful reflective properties that make this reader think about what she wants most out of life, her aspirations, travel plans, and beliefs about death and religion.

Kerouac was no stranger to waxing poetic about all of the above and it’s not difficult to see how he was a mind, body and soul that truly belonged in the time he was living. Along with his novellas and novels, Kerouac was a successful poet. His Book of Sketches of prose poetry makes a great coffee table or travel book and a student video inspired by his 66-part “Scripture of the Golden Eternity” is below.

“See the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming…”

Happy reading!




The Gates of Haven

Published in the 34th edition of Oklahoma City University’s

literary journal, The Scarab

The gates of Haven Lot

Alive with light and darkness naught

Ope for those of ethereal measure

Seeking hoards of entreasured pleasure

Without key and without lock

Without want and without mock

Seraphim feathers glow white and true

Nowhere can be found a somber hue

Faces blaze with light from the sun

Shining on and on since the words It is done

Flutes and horns and harps they hear

And raise their voices in holy cheer

By the gates that gleam like a pearly tear

But it is not the only gate that’s near


Down the path, and none too far

Lay wilted roots and wasted mar

An awful sight, a dreadful scene

Of unfriendly fiends and monsters mean

Who guard the gates of Haven Not

Bolted by goads of iron wrought

Enclosed by moats of torrid black

Employed by trolls on bended back

Imps and beasts of wicked gentry

Jest and boast and plead for plenty

If let inside, they would usurp the fort

Corrupt the crown and spoil the court

They write in red on the walls of the alley

Keeping count of the wicked, tally by tally

They give their souls to death to keep

Forever trapped in dungeons deep

They wail and moan and gnash their teeth

Men gone mad with crushing grief

They pick and scratch at flesh charred black

And never do find the narrow road back

Their cries rise in tuneless song

As verse by verse, they hum along

To a chant of regret and things done wrong

Of an eternity they hope won’t last too long