Thursday, August 10, 2017

Loren Eiseley: The Star Thrower

The blurb on the back page says it better than I can:

Long admired for his compassionate, probing meditations on the natural world, Loren Eiseley completed this volume of his favorite writings shortly before his death in 1977.  In includes many selections never before published in book form and spans Eiseley's entire writing career--from his early poems through The Immense Journey and The Unexpected Universe to his most recent essays--providing a superb sampling of the author as naturalist, poet, scientist, and humanist. 

 If there is an overriding theme in the twenty-three essays and ten poems that comprise this work, it is that the facts and data elicited by science are not the final statement  of our view of the natural world.  Those facts are the frontiers that we must go beyond in our study of the natural world.  His essays show us just what this means if we are to gain a fuller understanding, even if it is only a limited understanding of the natural world.




The Judgment of the Birds  

It is a commonplace of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the man seeking visions and insight must go apart from his fellows and live for a time in the wilderness. If he is of the proper  sort, he will return with a message.  It may not be a message from the god he set out to seek, but even if he has failed in that particular, he will have had a vision or seen a marvel, and these are always worth listening to and thinking about.

The world, I have come to believe, is a very queer place, but we have been part of this queerness for so long that we tend to take it for granted.  We rush to and fro like Mad Hatters upon our peculiar errands, all the time imagining our surroundings to be dull and ourselves to be quite ordinary creatures.  Actually, there is nothing in the world to encourage this idea, but such is the mind of man, and this is why he finds it necessary from time to time to send emissaries into the wilderness in the hope of learning of great events, or plans in store for him, that will resuscitate his waning taste for life.  His great news services, his worldwide radio network, he knows with a last remnant of healthy distrust will be of no use to him in this matter. No miracle can withstand a radio broadcast, and it is certain it would be no miracle if it could. One must seek, then, what only the solitary approach can give--a natural revelation.



The above are the opening paragraphs of some thoughts about several experiences  he had involving   ravens, pigeons, and various species of small birds in the countryside and from his room on the twentieth floor of a hotel in New York City.

Normally I don't bother with the back cover blurbs, except to wonder frequently whether the author(s) of the blurbs had actually read the work, but I have to quote another one:

This book will be read and cherished in the year 2001.  It will go to the MOON and MARS with future generations.  Loren Eiseley's work changed my life.  -- Ray Bradbury --

 
As I have said before, numerous times I believe, Loren Eiseley is an author who has been a major influence on my ideas, beliefs, and philosophy.  His works are those that would join me on that famous (infamous?) desert island.

The essays in   The Star Thrower  are too varied to try to summarize it, so I will limit myself to posting quotations from and brief commentaries on various essays in the book over the next few weeks or months.

12 comments:

  1. Fred, your enthusiasm is persuasive. I'm off to the library where I hope to track down Eiseley. If that fails, there's Amazon.

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    1. R.T.--I hope you can find something by him. I would like to hear? read? what your thoughts were if you did get a chance to read something by him.

      OOTD, I'm going to visit the Loren Eiseley Society web site and check out his bibliography and see what I'm missing. I have a number of his works, but I suspect there are some I don't have.

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  2. And it was just yesterday I put Loren Eiseley on my Travel/nature list of books to read. How convenient, Fred, thank you.

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    1. Shadow Flutter--he has some very interesting travel books, several of which I've read.

      Perhaps it's more than a coincidence?

      Reading Eiseley is the perfect antidote (for me anyway) to the poisonous atmosphere we live in today.

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  3. I have never heard of Eiseley. He sounds a bit like Thoreau in seeking understanding about reality in nature. I'm not clear what he is saying really. What is queer about the world. What is his point of comparison? What answers does he believe other people are seeking? What is he seeking?

    I guess I'm too concrete.

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    1. Sharon--life is strange or queer. We are so used to it that we take it for granted. Take some time out to just simply look at a flower, a tree, an insect, a bird, or your pet. Get rid of all you know about it and just watch.

      Life is strange. As far as we know, Earth has the greatest abundance of life--types and quantity--for millions of miles in the galaxy, or universe actually.

      Life is not only strange but it is rare in the immensity of the university.

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    2. this sort of contemplation is what led me into Haiku, and various awakening experiences... Eiseley was one of the rare true seers...

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    3. Mudpuddle--he is one of the few authors who are on my "must read" list, and he's been there for over 50 years now. He is also on a much smaller list, my "must have" list. Most authors I first try for a library copy and only then, if I need the book, will buy it. If I learn of a book by Eiseley that I don't have, I will immediately buy it.

      I find it immensely relaxing and satisfying to read one or more of his essays, even if it poses questions which I can't answer or come up with an answer that differs from his.

      A true seer, yes and they are rare, as you say.

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  4. I have read bits of Eiseley here and there, and evidently should read more. Wright Morris gives an interesting picture of Eiseley as friend and neighbor in his memoir A Cloak of Light.

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    1. George--I find his essays a very rewarding read. It's a mix of personal anecdote, science, philosophy, and wonder at the universe.

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  5. I have not read Eiseley but it sounds as if might like him a lot.

    I look forward to your upcoming commentary. I also find the above quotation enigmatic but I also think that the world is a very queer place.

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    1. Brian Joseph--if you find this world a very queer place, I think you will find Eiseley an absorbing essayist.

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