An Analysis of Jim Morrison's Poetry

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  • Topic: Jim Morrison, Poetry, An American Prayer
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  • Published : March 21, 2013
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An Analysis of Jim Morrison's Poetry Through the Eyes of a Fan.

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 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 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 characterised by contrived ambiguity of meaning which serves to express subconscious thought and feeling—a tendency now generally associated with the ‘post-modern’ 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 and blatant ‘borrowing,’ 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. Morrison’s early experiments with poetry and...
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