American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

EISELEY, LOREN C[OREY]. (1907-1977). Loren C. Eiseley, anthropologist, educator, and author, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. He collected fossils as a child and began speculating on the evolution of humankind and the universe. His early books, The Immense Journey (1957) and Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It (1958), are histories of modern science, with particular focus on the theory of evolution. In Darwin’s Century Eiseley offers a close reading of both The Voyage of the Beagle (1839) and On the Origin of Species (1859). The Immense Journey is a collection of essays that speculate on the origins and future of humans and the universe. The ebb and flow of the sea and the flow of the river are primary images in these essays. In “The Slit,” “The Flow of the River,” “The Great Deeps,” and “The Snout,” Eiseley explores the mystery and magic of water as the source of all life. “The Star Thrower” in The Unexpected Universe (1969) muses on shells and starfish washed ashore and again contemplates the place of humanity in the universe.

The “missing link” in Eiseley’s speculations on evolution became a metaphor for the physical/spiritual nature of humanity. Eiseley considered himself a naturalist in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau,* Francis Bacon, Sir Thomas Browne, and Izaak Walton. Living up to that tradition, Eiseley became a literary naturalist and a poet. The last two volumes published in his life were collections of poetry, Notes of an Alchemist (1972) and The Innocent Assassins (1973). Images of the sea are as prevalent in the poetry as in the prose. For example, “The Lost Plateau” from Notes of an Alchemist traces a tumultuous body of running water backward to an arid and lost plateau. In “The Rope,” from the same collection, the fraying of a rope is an analogy for following the evolution of the present-day universe backward to its source in the sea and its creatures. In The Innocent Assassins, lifestyles of creatures such as the dolphin, tortoise, fish, and beaver are examined for what they can teach humanity about revering nature.

William A. Sullivan