Saturday, December 14, 2013

Loren Eiseley: Epitaph Illustrated. Contemplative Naturalist. Education: Combine Humanities and Science .

Anthropologist Philosopher Writer Loren Eiseley 
Eiseley rode the rails.

He also lived the curriculum debate:
Humanities or Science -- not new.
The Greatest Achiever, however, blends the two

Loren Eiseley, 1907-1977, lived through an issue students address today: should education aim for the more lucrative science, or the insight of humanities.  He needed to earn a living, so veered to the science (anthropology at the time).  Yet, he developed his talents in humanities so that those now eclipse the scientific, some of us would say. This fits his own view of himself as a contemplative naturalist.  Core curricula: can we learn from the greats who keep feet in both camps, and foster exposure to humanities -- history, arts, reflection and expression -- as well as the measurements of the sciences?  I believe Loren Eiseley would say yes. 

He also rode the rails.  He did so for a year after college, the University of Nebraska, before able to commit himself to a profession (a mentor emerged, very helpful) and while confronted with personal and financial crises.  Was that an intuitive, feeling decision, or a rational response to data, or required by a blend of the two? See FN 1.  Ride the rails.   A necessity at the time, but also a choice for an explorer of life. Read Eiseley's All the Strange Hours, 1975, and live the Depression, personal and economic.

 Loren Eiseley rode the rails, 1930's

2.  Qualities. Loren Eiseley was irrepressibly curious.

His obituary highlights his boundless energy in finding out how things lived, fit, or not. It also includes the riding the rails. That image.  Find his works in the Obituary, at FN 1.

3.  How do we know him? Through others, and a brief evening.

 Loren Eiseley and his wife were  a) close friends of  b) college classmates of my in-laws, and c) the Eiseleys and the other classmate couple (class of 1928, I believe) came to a small gathering at my in-laws' summer home in the low mountains of Pennsylvania, not far from Newfoundland PA, about 45 years ago. It was late afternoon, early evening. Sit on the porch a while, jaw.

Loren Eiseley visited this farmhouse in the Poconos, out the Long Road.

Then do a walk-about.

Attention meandered to a little rock-pile area, where the drive circled around. The barn was down the slope.  To us, the piles of stones was only a protection for an abandoned well.  Keep off, don't trip, tell children to steer clear. Snakes! What else? Don't try to find out.

To Loren Eiseley it was an opportunity to investigate.

 Down he went, to his knees,then to all fours, then to flat on the ground, and in went his entire arm, cheek flat to the rock, as he felt around in the dark and damp to see what he could find.  Snakes! we called out.  Sure. Snakes.

Loren Eiseley appreciated snakes.

And he wiggled around deeper. 

3.  Epitaph, Loren Eiseley

Loren Eiseley died in 1977.  I was going over our copies of his books, and found the Obituary.  Someone else had sent me a copy of his Epitaph, source not included.  I expected to find his Epitaph somewhere online. He wrote this Epitaph for himself, and it was apparently published in Phi Beta Kappa's The American Scholar, Vol 35, No. 2, Spring 1966. Fair transformative use by illustration.  The original is in quatrains. Oddly, this Epitaph is not available through the site,  Why bar it from view? Why keep the humanities away from the humans?  Illustrate and transform it, send the work a little further down the rails.

Loren Eiseley, send his works further down the rails

Epitaph. Illustrated. Small Tribute to Loren Eiseley

I shall be part of all Octobers
I shall be part of sleet and driving rain,

Epitaph, Loren Eiseley

I shall scurry with dead leaves on pavements,
Epitaph, Loren Eiseley

I shall be dust and rise from dust again.

Epitaph, Loren Eiseley

Stranger, be not afraid because you follow
Fast on my heels yet know the light of day.

Epitaph, Loren Eiseley

The earth takes back the garment that it lent us

 Epitaph, Loren Eiseley

To clothe the hedgehog or the bright blue jay.

All this I was before the living trapped me
And hurled me from deep night into the sun.

I have gone home because a snowstorm called me.

Say to my love there is no other one.

Loren Eiseley, Epitaph

Say to my love I am somehow disperse'd
Into the snake that haunts this hollow bone.
I sleep his coiling sleep, but tell her also

Looren Eiseley, Epitaph
(actual place, behind the farmhouse)

How many times we've tilted this death stone.


FN 1. Loren Eiseley, not only a naturalist but a historian of science, studied the "Darwinian circle" and its predecessors,according to a small footnote on our copy of Epitaph.  He chose an ideal "science" for his blended approach to his profession(s) as scientist, and philosopher, writer, poet.  Darwin:  quick review at

The discussion now has shifted. Anthropologists now address overtly whether anthropology is primarily
  • a science (exploring how a group develops knowledge of the universe through methodical observation and experiment, measuring, reasoning); or 
  • a humanity (exploring how a group "processes and documents" its human experience, history, arts, language, philosophy, etc., see should dominate the discussion.
  • In 2010, the American Anthropological Association deleted "science" in its mission statement, see  Yet the site affirms that anthropology taps all the sciences and humanities. What is its difference from Society for Anthropological Sciences, then, with its focus on empiricism and use of social sciences? See
FN 2  Obituary

 Loren Eiseley was well known in his lifetime for his philosophical naturalism. He is buried, at Bala Cynwyd outside Philadelphia, grave found through

Loren Eiseley Obituary:  The newspaper and date of this publication are unknown -- my mother-in-law tucked it into one of his books.  This could be a Philadelphia newspaper, or even the New York Times, but a spelling error argues against the NYT.

Loren Eiseley. Phone home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this site by clicking on that photo of the farmhouse. I happen to live in the poconos and was wondering if maybe you had the address of the property? It looks very familiar. I found no other way to contact you except to comment.