Jim Morrison: A “Serious” Poet?

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

James Douglas Morrison’s poetry was born out of a period of tumultuous social and political change in American and world history. Besides Morrison’s social and political perspective, his verse also speaks with an understanding of the world of literature, especially of the traditions that shaped the poetry of his age. His poetry also expresses his own experiences, thoughts, development, and maturation as a poet–from his musings on film at UCLA in The Lords and The New Creatures, to his final poems in Wilderness and The American Night. It is my intention in this essay to show Morrison as a serious American poet, whose work is worthy of serious consideration in relation to its place in the American literary tradition. By discussing the poetry in terms of Morrison’s influences and own ideas, I will be able to show what distinguishes him as a significant American poet. In order to reveal him as having a clearly-defined ability as a poet, my focus will be on Morrison’s own words and poetry. I will concentrate on his earlier work to show the influence of Nietzsche and French poets such as Arthur Rimbaud and Antonin Artaud and the effect they had on Morrison’s poetry and style.

Morrison’s poetic style is characterized by contrived ambiguity of meaning which serves to express subconscious thought and feeling–a tendency now generally associated with the postmodern or avant garde. His poetic strength is that he creates poetry quite profound in its effect upon the reader, by using vividly evocative words and images in his poems. While it is obvious that Morrison has read writers that influence his work, and their influence remains strong in subject and tone, he still manages to make it his own in the way he adapts these influences to his style, experiences, and ideas. We would expect to find remnants of quotes, stolen lines and ideas, in a lesser writer, but Morrison shows his strength as a poet by resisting plagiarism in order to achieve originality in his own verse. As T. S. Eliot has said, “Bad poets borrow, good poets steal.”

Morrison’s poetry is very surreal at times, as well as highly symbolic–there is a pervading sense of the irrational, chaotic, and the violent; an effect produced by startling juxtapositions of images and words. Morrison’s poetry reveals a strange world–a place peopled by characters straight out of Morrison’s circus of the mind, from the strange streets of Los Angeles boulevards and back alleys. Morrison’s speech is a native tongue, and his eye is that of a visionary American poet. He belongs to what poet and critic Jerome Rothenberg calls the “American Prophecy . . . present in all that speaks to our sense of ‘identity’ and our need for renewal.” Rothenberg sees this prophetic tradition as “affirming the oldest function of poetry, which is to interrupt the habits of ordinary consciousness by means of more precise and highly charged uses of language and to provide new tools for discovering the underlying relatedness of all life . . . A special concern for the interplay of myth and history runs through the whole of American literature. Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman saw the poet’s function in part as revealing the visionary meaning of our lives in relation to the time and place in which we live . . . we have taken this American emphasis on the relationship of myth and history, of poetry and life, as the central meaning of a ‘prophetic’ native tradition.”

The lasting impression of Morrison’s poems is that they attempt to render the dream or nightmare of modern existence in terms of words and imagery, quite bizarre and obscure, yet compelling at the same time. An important aspect about the body of his work and his commitment to his particular style, one closely aligned to Rothenberg’s prophetic tradition, is that it is in the tradition of what other poets of his time were writing.

Critiquing the Myth of Morrison

In 1994, Professor of French Literature at Duke University, Wallace Fowlie, published the first scholarly study of the poetry of the charismatic lead singer of the sixties rock band The Doors. The book was titled Rimbaud & Jim Morrison: The Rebel as Poet, and as suggested by the title, it is a comparative study of the lives and work of Arthur Rimbaud and Jim Morrison. The fact that Morrison had written to Fowlie, thanking him for his 1966 translation, Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters, proved the starting point for Fowlie’s comparison between the two poets. Despite Fowlie’s apparent good intentions, his knowledge of Rimbaud’s work and his understanding of French symbolism far outweigh any of the observations he makes about Morrison’s poetry. Perhaps the most insightful point he makes is when he labels Morrison “Kouros,” the Greek word for “a youth attractive to men and women . . .[a word used] At times in praise of his beauty. At other times it is hurled almost as a curse at those youths who insolently torment older people.”

After inadvertently making his own contribution to the Morrison myth by stereotyping him as Kouros, Fowlie goes on to disclaim his own observation by stating that “[t]his name I suggest as representative of the non-hypocritical innocence of Jim when he was not aware of the power of his appearance and his personality.” When was Morrison ever not aware of his appearance and his personality? Pre-teens? This is a typical example of Fowlie’s misunderstanding of Morrison’s character and is what informs most of his discussion of Morrison’s poetry. Consequently, Fowlie only ever illuminates the obvious in the poems, although he does make solid connections between some of Morrison’s poems and their allusion to and the influence of Rimbaud.

Fowlie has written a perceptive analysis of Rimbaud’s poetry and the poet’s role as rebel, yet the same observations are in his 1946 study, Rimbaud: The Myth of Childhood. Again, by concentrating on the myth of Morrison, as he does successfully with Rimbaud, Fowlie ignores the literary qualities of the poetry. Like most people that encountered Morrison, either through books or in person, Fowlie never seems to get past the myth. In view of this unfortunate aspect of his discussion of Morrison’s poetry, his approach is neither scholarly nor enlightening. However, what Fowlie does provide is a superficial guide to those wanting to pursue certain points, such as the influence of Nietzsche, Artaud, Rimbaud and the Beats on Morrison’s own writing.

Most literature on Morrison is predominantly biographical, preferring to regurgitate the myth and scandal surrounding his life and times, rather than give his art any serious consideration. Despite interest, both negative and positive, his writing has not been comprehensively analyzed in the context of his life and culture. Nor has it been discussed in terms of its merits (and failings), or its place in the ranks of American literature, and the reasons for this are twofold. First, Morrison’s verse is obscure, highly subjective and at times obscene or grotesque in imagery and speech, as in “An American Prayer” from The American Night:

Cling to cunts & cocks
of despair
We got our final vision
by clap
Columbus’ groin got
filled w/ green death
(I touched her thigh
& death smiled)

Secondly, the myth tends to impede any progress past itself–the romantic idea of Morrison as poet-performer is preferable to the critics than any serious attempt to actually understand or analyze the poetry itself. For example, Fowlie’s judgement of Morrison’s life pigeonholes him in terms of the poetry; he cannot separate Morrison’s poetry from the “persona [which] had everything to do with the principle of Dionysus.”

To this point, Morrison’s reputation precedes any serious literary analysis of the work. Despite his failings as a human and as a poet, he has left behind some valuable and important examples of his poetic talent that deserve serious analysis. This discussion will focus primarily on Morrison’s earliest work and the display of ideas, influences, and style that evolved into his own poetic voice. It is my belief in the strengths and significance of Morrison’s poetry, which has led me to situate him as a poet in the American literary tradition.

Motivation & Motif

Morrison’s early experiments with poetry and prose, written between 1964-69, depict–in the language of an intellectually ambitious film student–the strong influence of people such as Nietzsche and Artaud, and his ideas on aesthetics, philosophy, life, and film in particular. His early writings are the foundation on which he develops his poetical style. All the motifs, symbols, and imagery introduced in his first collection of poems recur continuously throughout his later works. The Lords and The New Creatures was conceived as two separate books; however, it was published as one book containing Morrison’s ideas and poetry. Essentially, it is a forum for the fleshing out of style. The first half of the book The Lords: Notes on Vision, is a collection of notes and prose poems; while the second half, The New Creatures, is an assortment of poetry.

The Lords is a motley work of ideas and prose, loosely held together with motifs of death, cinema, and the reinterpretation of mythical and theatrical theory. While originality seems to be in short supply, and naive idealism in abundance, it is interesting for the allusion to, and presentation of, philosophical and aesthetic ideas central to Morrison’s poetry. Stylistically, The Lords reflects his propensity for dark imagery and self-mythology, which would later be a fundamental characteristic of his poetry and performance. The motifs that pervade all of his poetry abound: the city, sex, death, assassins, voyeurs, wanderers, deserts, shamanism, and so on. The autobiographical and historical references in the poems reflect the myth-making process of turning fact into fiction: the inner world of the psyche and its perceptions of surroundings, a mythological landscape of Morrison’s mind.

His own life sets the tone and scenarios of the poems. His itinerant childhood constantly spent shifting around the country, combined with his career choice of international rock star, made Morrison identify himself with the image of the vagabond or wanderer. It was a literary figure that he would use in his poems, obviously having symbolic and poetic appeal, as well as personal significance. As he has suggested of himself and others: “We’re like actors, turned loose in this world to wander in search of a phantom, endlessly searching for a half-formed shadow of our lost reality.”

His poetry, however, has a strong sense of place; the strong observational power of the astute outsider, works well in the invocations of strange border towns and locations. His vision of Los Angeles, or “Lamerica”, is profound in its focus and impressions. It is even stranger because of the ambivalent nostalgia Morrison seems to hold for the place, where he had lived and performed with the Doors: “Los Angeles is a city looking for a ritual to join its fragments.”

At first, for Morrison, it was musical theatre that would attempt to provide the ritual for the city, using his shaman principles to try to join its fragments, and bring his audience together. When that failed, and the summer of love and the notion of hippie solidarity had dissipated, he turned to his poetry as the ritual that would piece together the fragments of his own experience. Like Eliot’s fragments shored against his ruins in “The Waste Land”, Morrison’s words and poetry are the means by which he can make sense of his world and guard against his aesthetic mortality. However, as always in his poems, there is a sense of cynicism, directed toward himself as well as the reader. Almost as if, his suffering and sacrifices, made in the name of art and cultural freedom, were not for his own benefit but for the benefit of you, the reader:

Words are healing.
Words got me the wound
& will get me well

If you believe it.

This segment from his absurdly titled poem, “Lament for the Death of my Cock”, reflects Morrison’s pessimism and poetic idealism. The sense of suffering expressed in this later poem is also found in his earlier work The Lords, in relation to the idea of sacrifice for the good of all: “What sacrifice, at what price can the city be born?”

Morrison’s early awareness of society’s ills, and his benevolent sense of social responsibility, meant that he had a personally doomed and intense experience of America and its ideals. In particular, the Western Dream, as expressed in his apocalyptic invocation of a brave new world of dreamlike existence and ritual: “We are from the West. The world we suggest should be a new Wild West, a sensuous, evil world, strange, and haunting.”

With his own experience informing his work, Morrison begins The Lords by addressing the reader rhetorically, as if revealing some truth about modern existence. He introduces his analogy of a society’s relation to place, in terms of a game. His vision of the city is one of a dystopian environment–it is an interpretation of the American condition and all modern civilizations. Morrison sees the city in modernist and symbolist terms: the metropolis as a metaphorical reflection of society:

We all live in the city.

The city forms–often physically, but inevitably psychically–a circle. A Game. A ring of death with sex at its center. Drive toward outskirts of city suburbs. At the edge discover zones of sophisticated vice and boredom, child prostitution. But in the grimy ring immediately surrounding the daylight business district exists the only real crowd life of our mound, the only street life, night life. Diseased specimens in dollar hotels, low boarding houses, bars, pawn shops, burlesques and brothels, in dying arcades which never die, in streets and streets of all-night cinemas.

Like T. S. Eliot’s invocation of the unreal city in “The Waste Land”, inherited from Baudelaire’s line about the “[s]warming city, city full of dreams, where ghosts in broad daylight catch the walker’s sleeve,” there is a relation of person to place. Rimbaud’s perception of a city is more in line with Morrison’s, when he cries: “O sorrowful city! O city now struck dumb, / Head and heart stretched out in paleness / In endless doorways thrown wide by time; / City the Dismal Past can only bless: / Body galvanized for sufferings yet to come.”

Morrison’s motif of the city is as surrealistic as it is symbolic in the strange juxtapositions of vivid imagery, symbol, and metaphors of human consciousness. Throughout Morrison’s poetry, the city appears paradoxically as a place of despair, yet a place where experiences of sensuality and euphoric indulgence abound. It is a place of malaise and tensions, yet it offers art and life as well as an ominous source of disease and death. Nevertheless, this place of binaries and complexity is his primary source for an assortment of bizarre characters and experiences from the dark side. It is a place where the lords and the new creatures cohabit.

Morrison’s notion of American society and its effect upon culture and people, is one of the main concepts behind The Lords. He defines it as “the feeling of powerlessness and helplessness that people have in the face of reality. They have no real control over events or their own lives. Something is controlling them. The closest they ever get is the television set. In creating this idea of the lords, it also came to reverse itself. Now to me, the lords mean something entirely different. I couldn’t really explain. It’s like the opposite. Somehow the lords are a romantic race of people who have found a way to control their environment and their own lives. They’re somehow different from other people.”

The notion of the lords is a philosophical construct and a poetical device used to distinguish society as hierarchical. Morrison’s idea of the lords can be related to Friedrich Nietzsche’s view in The Will to Power, of “the Lords of the Earth — that higher species which would climb aloft to new and impossible things, to a broader vision, and to its task on earth.” The lords are the poets and artists–the people who are revolutionaries, who seek to change the conformist culture in which they exist and lead society forward:

“The Lords. Events take place beyond our knowledge or control. Our lives are lived for us. We can only try to enslave others. But gradually, special perceptions are being developed. The idea of the Lords is beginning to form in some minds. We should enlist them into bands of perceivers to tour the labyrinth during their mysterious nocturnal appearances. The Lords have secret entrances, and they know disguises. But they give themselves away in minor ways. Too much glint of light in the eye. A wrong gesture. Too long and curious a glance. The Lords appease us with images. They give us books, concerts, galleries, shows, cinemas. Especially the cinemas. Through art they confuse us and blind us to our enslavement. Art adorns our prison walls, keeps us silent and diverted and indifferent.

Door of passage to the other side, he soul frees itself in stride.”

Philosophy, Poetry, & America

To decode Morrison’s poetry, we need to recognize the philosophy that informs and underlies the meaning, symbolism, imagery, and theme. The philosophy is primarily Nietzschean in origin, although the poetry is not singular in its allegiance to the European philosopher. Rather, Morrison adapts variations of Nietzsche’s philosophy to correlate with his own experience as expressed within the verse. In other words, the philosophical system behind the meaning of the poem is not really a system as such, but more of a set of ideas which Morrison draws upon for inspiration.

Morrison’s various biographers concur that he read and revered the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. In the most widely read biography of Morrison’s life, No One Here Gets Out Alive, the authors attest to the fact that Morrison “devoured Friedrich Nietzsche, the poetic German philosopher whose views on aesthetics, morality, and the Apollonian-Dionysian duality would appear again and again in Jim’s conversation, poetry, songs, and life.” John Densmore, the percussionist in The Doors, wrote in his memoir Riders on the Storm that “Nietzsche killed Jim Morrison . . . Morrison the Superman, the Dionysian madman, the Birth of Tragedy himself.”

Ray Manzarek, the organist of The Doors, also remembers “walks in the soft shore break of Venice Beach discussing Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy” with Morrison. Morrison himself revealingly suggested to New York Magazine reporter Richard Goldstein in an interview, that he should “read Nietzsche on the nature of tragedy to understand where he’s really at.” [Goldstein noted that] His eyes glow as he launches into a discussion of the Apollonian-Dionysian struggle for control of the life force.”

Pervading Morrison’s work is an unshakeable dedication to Nietzsche’s ideas on aesthetics and human nature. Intermingled with this influence is a loyalty to the theatrical manifestos of Antonin Artaud, and an understanding and empathy with the poetic dictums of visionary poets such as Rimbaud and William Blake. This forms an underlying blend of philosophy that is apparent in Morrison’s words and actions. He welds philosophy, myth, and his own contemporary perspective of culture, society, and the world into his poetical vision.

Using an everyday symbol of modern existence, such as television or the cinema, he associates it with the timeless philosophical and existential subject of life: “the attraction of the cinema lies in the fear of death.” Combined with the excesses of an age where stimulants, sex, quasi-religion, and cultural revolution are the norm, it is both surprising and understandable that he had such a consistently borderline nihilistic tone in his verse:

We live, we die
& death not ends it
Journey we more into the
Nightmare . . .
We’re reaching for death
on the end of a candle
We’re trying for something
that’s already found us . . .

Do you know how pale & wanton thrillful
comes death on a strange hour
unannounced, unplanned for
like a scaring over-friendly guest you’ve
brought to bed
Death makes angels of us all
& gives us wings
where we had shoulders
smooth as ravens

Simultaneously, and paradoxically, a relentless optimism pervades. In “An American Prayer”, the poet calls for life to be invigorated and made sensual by the turning away from a chaotic present, sick with the throes of materialism and war, to a mythic past full of meaning and example:

Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths
of the ages
Celebrate symbols from deep elder forests
{Have you forgotten the lessons
of the ancient war}
We need great golden copulations

Despite the fact that in Notebook Poems and Paris Journal his poetry is concise and profound in the clarity of expression, imagery, and tone, depression clouds Morrison’s later work. The verse is simple, emotional, and pessimistic — an honest depiction of a melancholic and resigned reality. A poem such as “If Only I” expresses Morrison’s existentialism in a confessional mode very similar to other poets of his day. The narrator of the poem laments the loss of his self, and then the illusion of the notion of self. The poet’s disillusionment with life, has reached the point where he can not even feel himself to determine the validity of his own existence:

If only I
could feel
The sound
of the sparrows
& feel child hood
pulling me
back again
If only I could feel
me pulling back
& feel embraced
by reality
I would die
Gladly die

Morrison’s self-conscious portrayal of the anguished poet paused on the edge of the abyss of the self, is a symbolic expression of an ultimately destructive conflict between birth and death. It is a resolutely sad search for an ideal–it is the distance between an ordinary human and Nietzsche’s ubermensch, and very similar to Nietzsche’s own sentiments and poetry in Entflohn die Holden Traume (Fled Are the Lovely Dreams):

Fled are the lovely dreams
Fled is the past . . .
I have never experienced
The joy and happiness of life.
I look back sadly
Upon times that are long vanished . . .

I do not know what I believe
Or why I am still living. For what?
I would like to die, die ” …

The fact that Morrison’s death looks increasingly like a heroin overdose (the culmination of self-destructive excess and aesthetic idealism), gives the above mentioned poem and his earlier poems an autobiographical significance in relation to his life, thoughts, and intentions. Ironically, and somewhat prophetically, in his earliest writings, The Lords, he speaks of death, fate, and the consequences of the game:

When play dies it becomes the Game.
When sex dies it becomes Climax.
All games contain the idea of death . . .

French Deck. Solitary stroker of cards. He
dealt himself a hand. Turn stills of the past in
unending permutations, shuffle and begin. Sort
the images again. And sort them again. This
game reveals germs of truth, and death.

This understanding of death reflects an existential world-view (as in his poem “If Only I”) and a belief in the ultimate sacrifice/demise of the outsider artist with whom Morrison identified himself. Sex is the connector to the physical, to the realm of the real, populated by other players in the game. Love or attachment to another, is an emotional experience which leads to a metaphorical death of the self, in the very act of coitus or ejaculation. Denial of the self is the consequence of not experiencing the void, or the abyss of the self. As Morrison himself states emphatically and ironically, “Love is one of the handful of devices we have to avoid the void, so to speak.”

Morrison’s sense of isolation is complete in his concept of the game–it is existential in its inescapable net of death, and the performance or existence is his only saving grace. It is an acknowledgement of the solipsistic nature of the poet, the sacrifices to be made, the psychological pain of giving birth to a new self:

Urge to come to terms with the “Outside,” by absorbing, interiorizing it. I won’t come out, you must come in to me. Into my womb-garden where I peer out. Where I can construct a universe within the skull, to rival the real.

Like the metaphorical imagery in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, the womb is a symbol of the earth, the place where, like a flower or a clay man, the superman or ubermensch is born. It is a goal and a belief that we are capable as humans of constructing a heightened existence by the destruction of the old self or reality. It is an ideal, very much a part of the Morrison myth, and the American myth that through self-destruction comes enlightenment, transcendence of the unnatural societal-self. This creative destruction is also evident in the lives of other American literary figures like Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Hart Crane.

Another interesting connection to Nietzsche is Morrison’s use of the metaphor of the Edenic garden/gardener, as a kind of internalized organic place/state of being, or symbolic representation of the intellectual or creative genius. In Daybreak, Nietzsche draws a very similar parallel between thinker and the earthy allegorical figure of the Gardener and garden:

Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus: one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and grey. Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him!

Themes of power and violence in The Lords and The New Creatures were also part of the dark aspect of the ’60s. Morrison’s song lyrics that spoke as much about death as they did about love were associated with an end of an era. With the Vietnam War in full flight, Civil Rights protests and assassinations, the death of hippie naivete was imminent. Morrison himself sums up the reasons why things had changed: “It’s different now. (Pause) It used to seem possible to generate a movement–people rising up and joining together in a mass protest–refusing to be repressed any longer–like, they’d all put their strength together to break what Blake calls “the mind forged manacles” . . . [t]he love-street times are dead. Sure, it’s possible for there to be a transcendence–but not on a mass level, not a universal rebellion. Now it has to take place on an individual level–every man for himself, as they say save yourself. Violence isn’t always evil. What’s evil is the infatuation with violence.”

The end of the 1960s was characterized by an exalting of passion over intellect, body over mind, the perverse over the normal, the risks of violence and disaster over normal modes of existence. When asked by an interviewer his opinion on the social climate of America in the late ’60s, Morrison summed up the feelings of a generation and the effects of cultural change on the nation: “I think for many people, especially city dwellers, it’s a state of constant paranoia. Paranoia is defined as an irrational fear, but what if the paranoia is real? Then you just cope with it second by second.”

As a poet of his time, and as someone with a sensitive social consciousness, Morrison makes his poems reflect the age and place in which he writes. Yet, he does so in a way that makes a current event seem timeless, even ancient in its cloak of metaphorical language. In The Lords, what is possibly a simple interpretation of the savage Tate-LaBianca killings by Charles Manson and his followers is turned into an archetypal image of the power of violence. Their capture in Death Valley California, hiding out in caves after the murders, waiting for their apocalyptic race war (Helter Skelter) to begin, is reflected in Morrison’s perception of the media events of his day:

It takes large murder to turn rocks in the shade
and expose strange worms beneath. The lives of
our discontented madmen are revealed.

Within the context of the surrounding poems, we recognize other significant events in American cultural and political history. In “Baths, bars, the indoor pool. / Our injured leader lies prone on the tile,” we can find a reference to the death of Brian Jones who drowned in a swimming pool. Kennedy’s assassination is mentioned: “Modern circles of hell: Oswald (?) kills President,” and indirectly Vietnam and “people burdened by historical events or dying in a bad landscape.” The more these references are turned over, like “rocks in the shade,” the greater the depth and significance of meaning revealed in the verse.

Poetic & Poet

In contrast to The Lords, Morrison’s companion text The New Creatures, emphasizes the nightmarish existence of other creatures who are submissive and almost sub-species in their herd mentality and hellish existence. The violent imagery and surreal nature of the verse in The New Creatures, creates a disorganized and chaotic collection of poetry that seems to have no apparent motive or logic. The content is highly subjective and foreign to most readers; some allusions and imagery are familiar in their generality, yet pointless in the apparent obscurity and juxtaposition. The poems’ personal content unfortunately makes most of The New Creatures inaccessible in their metaphorical and symbolic rendition of Morrison’s psyche. In parts, Morrison evokes a tone and a cadence with the structure of word and image interplay similar in effectiveness to the lyrics he wrote for The Doors, some of which he actually performed:

the dead seal
the dog crucifix
Ghosts of the dead car sun.
Stop the car.
Rain. Night.

Most of the poems in The New Creatures seem strange and unrelated. Morrison gives the reader a clue to his method of poetry, by his comments on art forms like film, especially when his poetry is so obviously cinematic in its style and effect. He states, with a reference to the modernist idea of art replicating stream of consciousness, that he was “interested in film because, to me, it’s the closest approximation in art that we have to the actual flow of consciousness.”

Many of Morrison’s poems throughout his work are like film clips in an avant-garde surrealist cinema. There is an intellectual, yet dreamy quality to his juxtaposition of ideas and insights about the world. Like the main technique of crowd manipulation he used on stage, Morrison uses the pause for great effect, yet not in the conventional grammatical or formal sense. Instead of a caesura, ellipsis points or a new line (all of which he also uses to effect), he uses an image as a barrier to overcome, to be broken through:

Savage destiny
Naked girl, seen from behind,

on a natural road

explore the labyrinth

young woman left on the desert

A city gone mad w/ fever

This pause, this break in flow or subject (in this case the metaphorical labyrinth) renders the verse as a staccato series of images rather than a progressive stream of ideas and words. In other words, the structure of the poem does try to replicate the irrational logic of stream of consciousness. Often these poems differentiate themselves from Morrison’s more coherent pieces; characteristically, they are like abstract paintings of violent and bizarre scenes, giving the reader a sense of the intoxicated state prevalent throughout much of Morrison’s notorious alcoholic and drug-abusing life.

Reading some of Morrison’s less adept poetry is like reading notes someone took while experiencing an LSD trip. This is what a vast percentage of them actually are according to legends of Morrison’s excesses. The same elements combine in his more proficient poetry; in intonation, profound visions, states of consciousness, and hallucinatory images, all culminating in a unique contemplation of the world. His cinematic technique of image juxtaposition also emulates the effects of a psychedelic experience, which could also be interpreted as no less than an experience of Morrison’s world and the ’60s itself.

Poetry was the genesis for most of Morrison’s experience. Poetry inspired and vocalized his love of the cinematic visual, performance art, and musical lyricism. It also expressed his most profound thoughts, philosophies, and beliefs; it was a means to relay his world, which was increasingly close to destruction. In The American Night, his poem “An American Prayer” echoes Frazer’s “Golden Bough” along with the philosophies of Artaud and Nietzsche. Morrison appeals in his lament for understanding, for a consensus that technology and so-called progress is not necessarily better or more exciting than the mythically imbued past:

Let’s reinvent the gods, all the myths
of the ages
Celebrate symbols from deep elder forests . . .
We have assembled inside this ancient
& insane theatre
To propagate our lust for life
& flee the swarming wisdom
of the streets . . .
I’m sick of dour faces
Staring at me from the T.V.
Tower. I want roses in
My garden bower; dig?

In this sense, his attitude toward modernity is one of disdain, similar to Eliot’s perception of a defunct Western civilization in “The Waste Land”. Throughout his poems, Morrison is consistently anti-TV, almost as if he sees it as responsible for contemporary society’s decline. It is paradoxical in that he vehemently supports a view of the world through the camera lens of the filmmaker’s eye.

Apart from this cinematic aspect that carries through from his earliest work, the consistent use of dark and violent imagery, and the allusion to sublime philosophy and art, there is no one unifying aspect to his poetry. There is, however, an element of autobiography in the poems, subtly placed in the symbols and motifs associated with the lead singer of The Doors:

Snakeskin jacket
Indian eyes
Brilliant hair
He moves in disturbed
Nile Insect

In The New Creatures, references abound to his clothes, Indian visions, Alexandrine hair, and shamanic dance moves–it is a story about himself. We then are introduced to the poet’s perception of his reader:

You parade thru the soft summer
We watch your eager rifle decay
Your wilderness
Your teeming emptiness
Pale forests on verge of light
More of your miracles
More of your magic arms

“You” are the reader along for the journey; “we” are the lords, the poet speaks–enlightened ones, the ones who can see “your wilderness” . . . America? He continues: You are lost now, we are still the ones who can see what the reader cannot. Morrison invites us into his world, but the reader is always kept at arm’s length.

In the next section of the poem, we are introduced to the state of the world and its inhabitants, as well as disease, despair, images of torture, and the ominous presence of death always lurking in the background. A strange exotic world is revealed, with rites and customs straight out of Sir James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”:

Bitter grazing in sick pastures
Animal sadness & the daybed
Iron curtains pried open.
The elaborate sun implies
dust, knives, voices.
Call out of the Wilderness
Call out of fever, receiving
the wet dreams of an Aztec King.

The elaborate sun is elaborate in its context; the iron curtain forcibly opened reveals war, communism, Stalinist tyranny etc. The sun could be a reference to the east, the land of the rising sun (also the name of a city in Ohio); its place in the wilderness implies its ancient and customary qualities of meaning. The Aztec King brings a whole new dimension and significance to the sun as the ancients used the blood of human sacrifices to strengthen the daily journey of the sun across the sky.

The characters of the poems are creatures of a nightmarish world. It is only upon realizing that the creatures are meant to be us–we modern humans–that the fragments of society, held up to us as a mirror of ourselves through the experience of the author, become familiar. Robert Duncan, a poet from Morrison’s era, in a passage reminiscent of Morrison’s credo of wake up and the paradoxical consequence of his (Morrison’s) beliefs, perhaps best sums up the poet’s meaning and reason for creating such a world: “It is in the dream itself that we seem entirely creatures, without imagination, as if moved by a plot or myth told by a story-teller who is not ourselves. Wandering and wondering in a foreign land or struggling in the meshes of a nightmare, we cannot escape the compelling terms of the dream unless we wake, anymore than we can escape the terms of our living reality unless we die.”

Later in his life, as a more mature and serious writer, Morrison attempted to awaken from his own living reality, he had become very aware of the naivete of his early work. He reflects on the significance of some of his early ideas and acknowledges the limits of his experience and youthful literary talents in terms of an expression of his life, art, and as a prophetic poet: “I think in art, but especially in films, people are trying to confirm their own existence. Somehow things seem more real if they can be photographed and you can create a semblance of life on the screen. But those little aphorisms that make up most of The Lords — if I could have said it any other way, I would have. They tend to be mulled over. I take a few seriously. I did most of that book when I was at the film school at UCLA. It was really a thesis on film aesthetics. I wasn’t able to make films then, so all I was able to do was think about them and write about them, and it probably reflects a lot of that. A lot of passages in it–for example about shamanism–turned out to be very prophetic several years later because I had no idea when I was writing that, that I’d be doing just that.

Trials & Tradition

After the publication of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, an increase in availability of drugs, and the popularity of Blake’s poetry, radical experimentation by poets and artists flourished in the ’60s. Morrison, equally influenced by these ideas, applied them to his life –romantically drawing on Blake’s dictum that “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” He inundated his senses with a barrage of stimulants in order to invoke the shaman’s vision — an aspect of Morrison’s aesthetic ideal of the role of the poet-performer. It was also a belief that he was directly linked with his American compatriot, the indigenous Indian shaman. He saw himself as poet and as an American, in terms of a lineage of unity:

Like our ancestors
The Indians
We share a fear of sex
excessive lamentation for the dead
& an abiding interest in dreams & visions

However, Morrison’s notion of a shaman’s vision, somewhat differed from that of a Native American: “The Shaman . . . was a man who would intoxicate himself. See, he was probably already an . . . unusual individual. And, he would put himself into a trance by dancing, whirling around, drinking, taking drugs–however [he could]. Then, he would go on a mental travel and . . . describe his journey to the rest of the tribe.”

Morrison’s ideal is saturated with contemporary white-American values and beliefs, which did more to invoke the struggle of good and evil than dispel it with any transcendental magical rite. His combination of traditional shamanic rites with Blakean dictums of knowledge by excess were a recipe for self-destruction and characteristic wild swings between good and downright obscure poetry. The association between the shaman and the figure of the poet was at times written as poetry:

In the seance, the shaman led. A sensuous panic,
deliberately evoked through drugs, chants, dancing,
hurls the shaman into trance. Changed voice,
convulsive movement. He acts like a madman.

Morrison’s interest in the shaman was common amongst other poets of the time as well, but each had different views that represented an era of diverse, often exotic beliefs. For example, Jerome Rothenberg, a poet and critic associated with deep-image verse in the ’60s and ’70s, encouraged a shamanistic type of poetry, where primitive song takes precedence over received forms of English letters. However, Rothenberg did not want to appropriate shamanship, and what he called the “fable of ascendancy,” nor did he want to have much to do with people who did:

the old people
ghosts will arise anew
in phantom cities
they will drive caravan across the land
bare chested gods
of neither morning
shaman serpent in thy final kingdom leave
my house in peace

In this poem, characteristically similar to Morrison’s work, but different in ideas, Rothenberg emphasizes the resigned tone of the mature realist, a tone that Morrison himself would adopt in his later verse. Instead, Morrison’s idea of the shaman’s vision is the antithesis of Rothenberg’s:

The dark girl begins to bleed.
It’s Catholic heaven. I have an
ancient Indian crucifix around
my neck. My chest is hard
& brown. Lying on stained &
wretched sheets w/ a bleeding Virgin.
We could plan a murder, or
start a religion.

Aside from shamanism, Rothenberg also summed up nicely in a letter to Robert Creeley — another well-known American poet of his day — the principles of deep image, which apply appropriately to Morrison’s style and also express the common stylistic concerns of artistic peers:

The poem is the record of a movement from perception to vision.
Poetic form is the pattern of that movement through space and time.
The deep image is the content of vision emerging in the poem.
The vehicle of movement is imagination.
The condition of movement is freedom.

The idea that perception can be altered and consciousness enlarged, was a central tenet of the Beats as well as Morrison. The idea was made explicit in the French poet Rimbaud’s derangement of the senses and in Baudelaire’s Le Voyage, the “fire that burns our brains, to plunge into the depths of the abyss, Hell or Heaven, what does it matter? To the depths of the unknown to find something new.” Rimbaud’s proclamations in his 1871 letter to Paul Demeny, would prove the most influential to Morrison’s aesthetic sensibility and his notion of himself as poet seer:

The first study of the man who wants to be a poet in the knowledge of himself, complete. He looks for his soul, inspects it, tests it, learns it. As soon as he knows it, he must cultivate it! It seems simple: in every mind a natural development takes place; so many egoists call themselves authors, there are many others who attribute their intellectual progress to themselves! — But the soul must be made monstrous: in the fashion of the comprachicos [kidnappers of children who mutilate them in order to exhibit them as monsters], if you will! Imagine a man implanting and cultivating warts on his face.

I say one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses. All forms of love, suffering, and madness. He searches himself. He exhausts all poisons in himself and keeps only their quintessences. Unspeakable torture where he needs all his faith, all his superhuman strength, where he becomes among all men the great patient, the great criminal, the one accursed–and the supreme Scholar!–Because he reaches the unknown! Since he cultivated his soul, rich already, more than any man! He reaches the unknown, and when, bewildered, he ends by losing the intelligence of his visions, he has seen them. Let him die as he leaps through unheard of and unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where the other one collapsed!”

Rimbaud’s views, combined with Morrison’s knowledge of Native American shaman rituals, romantic poetry, and Beat attitude, was enough to formulate a prescription for experience and what he thought would be an expanded consciousness: “By listening to your body – opening up your senses, Blake said that the body was the soul’s prison unless the five senses are fully developed and open. He considered the senses the ‘windows of the soul.’ When sex involves all the senses intensely, it can be like a mystical experience . . . If you reject your body, it becomes your prison cell. It’s a paradox–to transcend the limitations of the body, you have to immerse yourself in it–you have to be totally open to your senses.”

In addition, in relation to his stage performance, which is as much about his experiences offstage and his poetry, he continues:

It’s a search, an opening of one door after another. Our work, our performing, is a striving for a metamorphosis. Right now, we’re more interested in the dark side of life, the evil thing, the night time. But through our music, we’re striving, trying to break through to a cleaner, freer realm. Our music and personalities as seen in the performance are still in a state of chaos and disorder, with maybe an element of purity just showing. Lately, when we’ve appeared in concert, it’s started to merge.

More in line with Blake and Nietzsche’s aesthetic and messianic path of knowledge, Morrison manages to give his quest a distinctive flavor with the use of indigenous folklore and cultural symbology — characteristics that make it distinctly American.

Morrison acknowledged he was a product and the embodiment of a violent age; he had reached a crossroads of self-realization, it is as if Morrison desired the death of all he had come to represent. A poem such as “Hurricane and Eclipse” epitomizes this weariness and self-flagellation:

I wish a storm would
come & blow this shit
away. Or a bomb to
burn the Town & scour
the sea. I wish clean
death would come to me.

When he states in his poetry his wish to die; it is hard to see it as merely a desire to die figuratively. Rather, there was a sense that it was somehow the shamanistic poet’s duty to sacrifice the self in order to save the tribe. As he had said earlier in an interview, the whole death trip was not entirely of his own making although he wore the role of martyr like a crown: “I’m not sure it’s salvation that people are after, or want me to lead them to. The shaman is a healer–like the witch-doctor. I don’t see people turning to me for that. I don’t see myself as a saviour . . . The shaman is similar to the scapegoat. I see the role of the artist as shaman and scapegoat. People project their fantasies onto him and their fantasies come alive. People can destroy their fantasies by destroying him. I obey the impulses everyone has, but won’t admit to. By attacking me, punishing me, they can feel relieved of those impulses.”

The Influence of Style

In his book The Living Theatre, Art, Exile, and Outrage, John Tytell recalls Morrison and poet-friend Michael McClure participating in performances of Paradise Now with The Living Theatre company. He also recalls how Morrison offered financial aid to the theatre troupe such was his commitment to the art. Tytell offers an important insight into Morrison’s political and aesthetic beliefs and also his loyalty and support of fellow artists: “Morrison–who had read Artaud and Ginsberg in college–saw himself as a revolutionary figure. Agreeing that repression was the chief social evil in America and the cause of a general pathology, he was typical of the sectors of support The Living Theatre had received in America. His long improvisational song ‘When the Music’s Over’ was a basic statement of apocalypse. Another of his songs proclaims, as in Paradise Now, ‘we want the world and we want it now.’ Morrison had seen every performance in Los Angeles and followed the company up to San Francisco.”

The founder of the Theatre of Cruelty, Antonin Artaud, described the motifs of his plays in his manifesto Theatre and Cruelty, as “eroticism, savagery, bloodlust, a thirst for violence, an obsession with horror, collapse of moral values, social hypocrisy, lies, sadism, the plague, disease and depravity” amongst other things. Upon reading Morrison’s poetry, this will appear to be a catalogue of his themes and subjects.

As Tytell recollects, Morrison read Antonin Artaud’s theoretical ideas, and saw them performed by The Living Theatre Company, which affected his own performances with The Doors. Less has been said about the influence of Artaud the poet on Morrison’s verse style. Artaud’s poetry is very similar in the free-verse form style and subject matter, especially the way in which he juxtaposes violent imagery with archetypal symbols to invoke a nightmarish sense of reality. In a remarkable passage where Artaud describes what surrealism means to him, we find an almost accurate description of Morrison’s perspective on art and performance:

Surrealism was never anything else than a new sort of magic to me. Imagination and dreams, all this intensive freeing of the unconscious whose aim was that those things the soul is accustomed to hiding should break through, and must of necessity usher in a profound transformation in the scale of appearances, in the value of meanings and creative symbolism. Concrete matter entirely changes its garb, its shell and no longer applies to the same mental gestures. The beyond, the unseen, reject reality. The world collapses. Then we can start examining our illusions and stop pretending.

And Morrison:

I offer images — I conjure memories of freedom that can still be reached — like The Doors, right? But we can only open the doors — we can’t drag people through. I can’t free them unless they want to be free — more than anything else … Maybe primitive people have less bullshit to let go of, to give up. A person has to be willing to give up everything — not just wealth. All the bullshit he’s been taught — all society brainwashing. You have to let go of all that to get to the other side. Most people aren’t willing to do that.

Let’s just say I was testing the bounds of reality. I was curious to see what would happen. That’s all it was: curiosity.

Ginsberg’s use of Whitman’s epigraph, preceding his poem “Howl”, is in the same sense as Morrison’s conception of the doors:

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”

Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, his own howl–his declaration of the sacred self, an egalitarian America, and the immortality of the soul, was the precursor and the model for the American poet’s sense of duty to expand their own, and their nation’s, consciousness. Morrison possibly took his cue as much from Ginsberg’s adoption of Whitman’s symbolic poetic principle, as he did from Blake’s dictum in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” that “if the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” The Doors as the title of his band, and as the symbol of Morrison’s own search for enlightenment, was evidence of his knowledge and use of symbolism, but also of his awareness of a tradition in signs and their resonant qualities in literature.

Morrison’s writing is a creation of his own world, a journey into the unknown, an extension of the rebel’s philosophy to break on through to the other side, where everything is spontaneous and unassured, apart from immortality. His work is a quest, not so much into the world of the unknown universe or spirituality, but rather an immersion in his own being, a search for the essence of the self of the individual and of the nation: “America was conceived in violence. Americans are attracted to violence. They attach themselves to processed violence, out of cans. They’re TV-hypnotised — TV is the invisible protective shield against bare reality. Twentieth-century culture’s disease is the inability to feel their reality. People cluster to TV, soap operas, movies, theatre, pop idols, and they have wild emotion over symbols. But in the reality of their own lives, they’re emotionally dead … we fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.” Eliot’s free-verse pastiche style of “The Waste Land”, combined with Ginsberg’s apocalyptic tone and gritty perception of America in “Howl”, provided the structural models for Morrison’s longer poems such as “American Prayer”, which also focuses on aspects of society, in terms of a psychological landscape, and its imperfections. The poems can be read literally with the effect being a sense of malaise or confusion. Read figuratively or metaphorically, the better poems take on a multi-layered depth filled with allusion, imagery, mood, and meaning that is either quite sublime or disconcerting. Most of the poetry unfortunately is fragmented, yet the reader must not forget the chaotic and experimental age in which it was written and intended to translate.

Morrison chooses androgynous symbols and metaphorical figures to convey the mutability and temporality of his era, as in the lyrics of his song “Riders on the Storm” off LA Woman, the last album he made with The Doors. “Riders on the Storm” is a metaphor for those, such as the character of the lord, who is a god in his own right, riding the storm of violent experience and tempestuous forays into evil. It is also a literary allusion to two particular poems by English and American romantic poets whose lives were similar as were the style and subject of their verse. William Cowper’s hymnal poem “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”, calls to saints to trust the storm, for it is of God’s making, it is he that “rides upon the storm”:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

The other reference is from the poem “Praise for an Urn” by Hart Crane, the wildly romantic American poet who inspired modern poets such as the Beats with his lust for life and experience, and his ultimate poetical act of suicide. The act of self-destruction placed Crane in a tradition of the poet as junction, where art meets life with fatalistic results, beyond the aesthetic realm of words. In his poem, the riders are those fragile words that ride the tumultuous storms of the mind and emotions. It is a poem full of sentiments suitable for thoughts on funeral rites, on a friend about to be cremated:

His thoughts, delivered to me
From the white coverlet and pillow,
I see now, were inheritances
Delicate riders of the storm.

The words for the poem within the poem are inherited from the person whose epitaph he writes. Like Morrison’s later poems, they are personal moments and thoughts shared from someone whose mind was in turmoil, who perhaps in hindsight may have been whispering for help. Aware that those words, about to be cast into the crematorium with his friend’s corpse, have a bittersweet profundity hard to match in other poetry, he realises that “they are no trophies of the sun.” Morrison’s use of riders on the storm is different again in its implications, but shows an awareness of a romantic motif and subsequent tradition. His rider is the poet figure, the wanderer, “like a dog without a bone / an actor out on loan”, yet not the romantic version of the wordsmith of Cowper and Crane’s making. Morrison’s version of the rider is more like Stephen Crane’s Rider from “The Black Riders and Other Lines”:

Black riders came from the sea.
There was clang and clang of spear and shield,
And clash and clash of hoof and heel,
Wild shouts and the wave of hair
In the rush upon the wind:
Thus the ride of sin.


James Douglas Morrison died in Paris on July 3, 1971 at the age of 27 and was buried in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, alongside his literary heroes such as Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine. Paris was an ideal world for Morrison, a world that was as equally ideal as his notion of the poet; it was a place to be a poet, not a famous American pop icon. Arguably, it was there that Morrison wrote his best poetry — his verse bursting with American landscapes, history, philosophy, and literary allusion. However, it was a place that would make him feel isolated, depressed, and ultimately, suicidal, which was reflected in his poems. The outcome may have been different if Morrison had only heeded the words of his favorite philosopher Nietzsche, who said, “as soon as ever a philosophy begins to believe in itself […] It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical impulse itself, the Will to Power, the will to ‘creation of the world,’ the will to the causa prima.” As Morrison found out, he could not escape the inevitable consequence of his idealism.

Just as Jim Morrison and The Doors were a significant part of America’s musical tradition, so too was Jim Morrison’s poetry a unique and influential chapter in American literary tradition. He was a poet on paper and in every other sense of the word. Rather than write about experience, he would subject himself to that experience first, physically, psychologically, or chemically, before he wrote about it.

Morrison proceeded to transform himself during his short life, through a series of comprehensive rites of passage. The delving into select works of literature and music, experimentation with different kinds of drugs, physical forays into states of isolation and sexual encounter … the crucial element was that whatever happened, it was always an intense experience. He methodically sought a transformation and an awakening through rituals and intoxication, and was honest enough to write it down for all to read:

Why do I drink?
So that I can write poetry.
Sometimes when it’s all spun out
and all that is ugly recedes
into a deep sleep
There is an awakening
and all that remains is true.
As the body is ravaged
the spirit grows stronger.

Forgive me Father for I know
what I do.
I want to hear the last Poem
of the last Poet.

Morrison saw poetry as an art form used to push the boundaries of convention and of reality. The concerts of the Doors were infamous for Jim’s wild Dionysian use of poetry to incite his audience into a state of reckless abandonment and transcendence. More than the power of words to uplift people and to change their lives, he also saw poetry as a means of continuing tradition, history, and art.

In order for the reader to see Morrison as a serious poet, with a clearly defined poetic, we must read his work as poetry, rather than as a strange relic of a dead rock god. What follows is the prologue from Morrison’s posthumous collection of poetry, Wilderness:

I’m kind of hooked to the game of art and literature; my heroes are artists and writers … I wrote a few poems, of course … real poetry doesn’t say anything, it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through any one that suits you … and that’s why poetry appeals to me so much — because it’s so eternal. As long as there are people, they can remember words and combinations of words. Nothing else can survive a holocaust but poetry and songs. No one can remember an entire novel … but so long as there are human beings, songs and poetry can continue. If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.

As can be seen, Morrison had a clearly defined poetic that would steer both his poetry and his performances (both onstage and off) throughout his life. This connection, between the poetic and the actual poetry itself, is what makes Morrison the committed figure of a genuine poet.

Whether Morrison will ever be recognised as a poet, rather than remembered as mythical pop idol, will depend largely on the passage of time and due critical attention to his poetry. His notion that “nothing else can survive a holocaust but poetry and songs” could perhaps be changed, substituting the word “time” for “holocaust”. A century from now, literary critics will look back on the twentieth century as a period of literary change and diversity, unequalled in the history of the printed word. Their focus on the various movements and figures of American literature in the ’60s and ’70s will be tempered by prejudices and preferences of their own time. Literary historians will be looking for examples of an age when literary and social experiment was at its peak. Morrison will stand out as a poet who represented a time when writers experimented with drugs, language, form, philosophy, music, theatre, and social revolution. It was a time similar to the Romantic era of the French Revolution, but a time and a set of characteristics distinctly relative to literary America in the ’60s and ’70s.

Heroes of that age will stand out by their text’s appeal to a future age when radicalism will perhaps say more than the regional voices of more conventional and canonically recognized poets. After all, Morrison’s heroes such as Rimbaud, Artaud, Blake, and Van Gogh are examples of visionary artists, deemed unworthy of the canon in their own age, now considered exemplars of aesthetic style and genius in our time. Likewise, the same will be said of a poet like Morrison, whose work is, at least, no less significant or deserving than minor canonical poets of his time.

(For more of William Cook’s thoughts on Jim Morrison’s poetry, visit his website).

6 Responses

  1. Dear grantw71,
    I enjoyed

    Dear grantw71,
    I enjoyed reading your article. You have delved into Morrison’s intellect and his ability as an author. My comment is that though your views are benign you don’t pay sufficient credit. He outshone any other poet of his age and this is what time will tell…”inward click and sure”. You are on the threshold of the immense Morrison literary industry…you know, don’t you, Shakespeare had to die before he was honoured as a literary figure, but those who enjoyed his plays while he lived were in awe of him, but then who could have known..who had sufficient intellect to understand his intellect… he just looked like another flawed human being…but now, with the intellect and knowledge that the passage of time bestows on humanity we realise that no-one of his time truly realised who stood before them when he tramped the stage as the ghost or other minor roles in his own plays. So it is with James Douglas Morrison. One thing is clear though, both Shakespeare and Morrison knew of their own genius. It is pointless to compare either of them with a buffoon like T.S. Elliot, but Rimbaud and Blake are fair comparisons. An eternity was buried at Pere Lachaise. All the best.

    Stephen Loomes

  2. In the late sixties I was in
    In the late sixties I was in my teens, and the music played on radio here in Australia back then was pretty average. I still recall hearing Bob Dylan singing a six minute song, “Like a Rolling Stone” and it was fantastic, not just that it was iconoclastically breaking the mould of the 2 minute 40 second rock song, but the lyrics were so poetic, and he wrote them. Then in 1967 ( I think it was) I heard the Doors first album and here was another poet. It seemed like a Renaissance when all the greatest minds suddenly diverted from law, politics, advertising or wherever else they would have gone, and got into rock and roll, poetry and conscioiusness expansion. The world lives on ideas, some good, some bad. Jesus, Mohammed, Zarathustra, the whole lot had ideas that have spiralled down through time dragging in millions. With the artists of the sixties, there was no “holy book” but there were albums with music and lyrics. In Morrison’s case, there were his poetry books. The ideas of Morrison are proving to be so powerful, and as with Shakespeare and Dylan, they will move from popular culture into the mainstream where academics will obtain their doctorates dissecting their works. Beyond the dessicated world of academia, many artists have modelled themselves on people like Dylan and Morrison. I believe Jim also took literature into a modern age and we all know Jim loved the English language and words, and word play, witness the anagram on his own name, Mr. Mojo Risin. I love Dylan’s rhymes, particularly the genius of a song like “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding” but without a competitive comparison, Morrison used a freer verse in his poetry not so tied to the rhyming couplets of Bob “darkness at the break of noon, shadows even the silver spoon, the hand-made blade, the child’s balloon, to understand you know to soon, there is no sense in trying.” Jim could do that too, as in “there will never be another one like you, there will never be another one who can do the things you do, (from Shaman’s Blues). However, Jim’s progression beyond the rhyming couplets which are so appropriate for songs was a staggeringly meaningful abstraction without rhyme; for example, on p. 138 of his poetry book, The Lords and the New Creatures, when describing an helicopter flying over the war-fields in IndoChina and macerating the soldiers he writes: “the chopper blazed over, inward click and sure, blasted matter, made the time bombs free of leprous lands, spotted with hunger and clinging to law.”
    The beauty of his use of words, “inward click and sure” conjuring the pilot’s thumb on the knob on the joystick activating a cannon blasting hundreds of bullets a minute over an asian paddy field. His ironic reference to the might, power (shock and awe) of the U.S. military machine (which he had first hand knowledge about from visits to the war machine in which his Dad worked) as being “leprous lands, spotted with hunger and clinging to law (ie., for God and country).
    His vision on each of us here on earth stripped to our most selfish mamallian form, on p., 132. ” I can’t believe this is happening, I can’t believe all these people, are sniffing each other, & backing away, teeth grinning, hair raised, growling, here in the slaughtered wind.”
    It was a dark vision in part, but it provided a reality that still informs the thinking of many of us. On p.119, “Jackal, we sniff the survivors of caravans. We reap bloody crops on war fields. No meat of any corpse deprives our lean bellies. Hunger drives us on scented winds. Stranger, traveler, peer into our eyes & translate the horrible barking of ancient dogs.” These messages have lost no meaning, and in fact with the belligerence of the west in their wars on terror, and the madness of the islamic fascists they eloquently portrayed the future. He was however, in my view, a humble loving person who could portray his horror of the rape of a beautiful planet. “What have they done to the Earth? What have they done to our fair Sister, ravaged and plundered,ripped her and bit her, stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn, tied her with fences, and, dragged her down.” The butterfly screams. “We want the world and we want it now.” As he said, p.188 of Wilderness, “To have just been born , for beauty & see sadness, What is this frail sickness?” To finish, p.161 of Wilderness, “The War is over there, I am neither doctor nor saint, Christ or soldier, Now, friends, don’t look at me sadly ranting like some incomprehensible child. I know by my breath of what I speak, & what I’ve seen needs telling.” So Jim’s mortal remains lie at rest in Pere Lachaise but this spirit of inquiry and love of life live on.As he said, p.197 of Wilderness, “The Endless quest, a vigil of watchtowers and fortresses against the sea and time. Have they won? Perhaps. They still stand and in, their silent rooms still wander, the souls of the dead, who keep their watch on the living. Soon enough we shall join them. Soon enough we shall walk the walls of time. We shall miss nothing except each other.”

  3. Hello William,
    Your analysis of Morrison remains the most learned; did you know Not To Touch the Earth, Not to See the Sun, comes from Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and Waiting for the Sun is from the Quiche Maya Bible (translated by a priest, unfortunately). Stay well
    Steve Loomes

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