Original poem reprinted online here: "The Bear" by Jim Harrison
Originally read: October 18, 2013
More information about the Poet: Jim Harrison
This poem is a narrative that starts at the speaker then expands outward. A bear is a bear until it can dream.
The poem starts out with the repetition of the "when" phrase, "When my propane ran out / when I was gone and the food / thawed in the freezer I grieved." Here seems to be the start of an adventure narrative. The speaker ran out of utilities to survive "propane" "food" and how something thawed. The tone seems serious enough.
"over the five pounds of melted squid, / but then a great gaunt bear arrived / and feasted on the garbage." Now here's the thing. The poem turns a bit because of the adjectives used to describe the bear seem a little too overboard, couple this with alliteration and the tone of the poem changes to something a bit more humorous -- especially with this strong image of, "a few tentacles / left in the grass, purplish white worms."
This is set up though -- this mix of serious and humor for the last five lines which waxes poetically and philosophically:
O bear, now that you've tasted the ocean
I hope your dreamlife contains the whales
I've seen, that one in the Humboldt current
basking on the surface who seemed to watch
the seabird's wheeling around her head.
Now here's a leap -- from eating squid to seeing the ocean. Yes it's a bit humorous, but this seems more of a projection of the speaker -- which he admits with the reference to the whales "I've seen."
Why is this important to note? Because the speaker can hide behind the anthropomorphizing of the bear in order to state something. But no, the bear is the backdrop to the "dreamlife" of the bear and the speaker.
And what's in this dreamlife? A whale basking on the surface "who seemed" to watch the seabird's. Interpretation -- the ability to see something rare and understand purpose. Just like the bear eating the frozen squid -- there's purpose in (somewhat hyperbolic) accidents.