Monday, August 31, 2009

Jim Harrison, Absurd Man

We’ve never read anything by Jim Harrison before. Harrison is a poet and novelist, perhaps best known as the author of Legends of the Fall.

We picked up a copy of his latest poetry collection, Saving Daylight. We were immediately hooked. Right away, the opening poem is fairly absurd, in the philosophical sense:

“Before I was born I was water.
I thought of this sitting on a blue
chair surrounded by pink, red, white
hollyhocks in the year in front
of my green studio. There are conclusions
to be drawn but I can’t do it anymore.
born man, child man, singing man,
dancing man, loving man, old man
dying man. This is a round river
and we are her fish who become water.”

Throughout the collection, Harrison is sensitive to our essential mortality and insignificance in the larger scheme of things. He focuses on the simple pleasures of being alive and the beauty of nature around us and the ceaseless march of lost time.

“You can’t row or swim upstream on the river.
This moving water is your continuing past
that you can’t retrace by the same path
that you reached the present, the moment by moment
implacable indifference of time.”

Harrison is also aware of the mystery of the ego, of the “I”. As he writes: “There is no ‘I’ with the sun and moon. Time means only the irretrievable. If I mourn myself, the beloved dead, I must mourn the deaths of galaxies.”

He repeatedly returns to the theme of insignificance, of the absurd nature of our existence, in lines such as:

“Both cat and man are bathed in pleasant
insignificance, their eyes fixed on birds and stars”


“The beetle takes half an hour on a leisurely
stroll across the patio, heading
northwest as if it truly mattered.
I think of Wallace Stevens in his office
doing insurance work as if it truly mattered.”

Among others…

This all seemed too much of a coincidence to us. Upon further investigation, we find that Harrison found Camus inspirational. In a book Conversations with Harrison, we find the following:

“The most inspirational literature I ever read was Dostoevsky or Camus. Then I believe his assertion when he says you only have one choice in your life: it’s whether or not to commit suicide. If you don’t commit suicide, you have to treat your life with a great deal of energy and assertiveness.”

Jim Harrison, absurd man…

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