Mar. 26, 2009

No Matter How Far You Drive

by Louis Jenkins

I sat between Mamma and Daddy.
My sister sat on Mamma's lap.
Daddy drove. Fields, telephone poles....
I watched the sun go down.
"Never look straight at the sun,
it could ruin your eyes."
No matter how far you drive
you can't get to the sun.
I touched the pearly knob
of the gearshift lever
and felt the vibration in my fingers.
It made Daddy nervous.
'Never mess around with that.
You could ruin the car,
cause an accident."
It was dark, the sun gone to China.
Out there in the dark,
fourteen lights. I counted. Fourteen.
Rabbits ran in front of the car
from one black ditch to the other.
I didn't know where we were.
I could see the red light on the dashboard
and the light of Daddy's Lucky Strike
that broke into a million sparks behind us
when he threw it out the window.

"No Matter How Far You Drive" by Louis Jenkins, from All Tangled Up with the Living. © Nineties Press, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of mythologist Joseph Campbell, (books by this author) born in New York City (1904). When he was a young boy, he went to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Madison Square Garden, and he became fascinated with Native American mythology. He went regularly to the American Museum of Natural History, and at the New York Public Library he checked out everything he could find about Native Americans.

He went to Columbia University, where he was a track and field star. He got a scholarship to study in Paris, and there he met Sylvia Beach, the owner of Shakespeare & Company bookstore. She introduced him to James Joyce's Ulysses, which she had published herself. He spent a year in Munich, and he became interested in Freud, Jung, Mann, Goethe, and Hinduism. He returned to America, and he said that he was "just in time for the Wall Street crash and a long season of no jobs." So he moved to a cabin in Woodstock, New York. He spent five years reading, splitting his time between New York and Carmel, California, where he became friends with John Steinbeck.

In 1949, he published his first solo work, and the one for which he remains most famous, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It's a scholarly work of comparative mythology and draws parallels among the hero myths of various cultures, including Native American, ancient Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, Mayan, Biblical, Nordic, and Arthurian legends. He summarizes this "monomyth" as: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." The book's chapters include: "The Call to Adventure," "Refusal of the Call," "The Crossing of the First Threshold," "The Belly of the Whale," "The Meeting with the Goddess," "Woman as the Temptress," "The Crossing of the Return Threshold," "Master of the Two Worlds," and "Freedom to Live."

In 1988, Joseph Campbell did a series of interviews with Bill Moyers that aired on PBS, entitled The Power of Myth. He also wrote a four-volume work called The Masks of God, (19591968). When he died, he was working on an ambitious project called The Historical Atlas of World Mythology.

Joseph Campbell said, "Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths."

And, "We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

And, "I have bought this wonderful machine — a computer ... it seems to me to be an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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