This small volume of mostly poetry was published by the estate of Raymond Carver in 1989, one year after the author’s death. It was compiled by his wife, Tess Gallagher, also a poet and short story writer, who devoted herself to collaborating on what they both knew would be his final effort.
She also wrote the book’s introduction, and it was there, in a quote from Carver’s personal journal, that I found one of those magical lines of prose that make you stop reading to think long and hard about what you’ve just read.
When hope is gone, the ultimate sanity is to grasp at straws.
Sanity is an ephemeral state. It is circumstantial, cultural, temporal and not at all applicable in some universal way. Carver chose the sanity most comfortable for him and what he was facing then and there.
Some time afterward, he relaxed his stand and wrote the following well-known poem just before he died:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
-Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall
What at first appears to be an unimaginative and overly-simplistic list of what he wanted in his life, I could argue, after lots of thought, is really exhaustive.