The Heaven of Animals

James Dickey

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The Heaven of Animals 2017-08-29T18:16:26+00:00

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The Heaven of Animals

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,

They rise, they walk again.

James Dickey

Widely regarded as one of the major mid-century American poets, James Dickey is known for his sweeping historical vision and eccentric poetic style. Born in 1923 in Buckhead, Georgia, Dickey spent a year at Clemson University before enlisting in World War II in 1942. As a member of the 418th Night Fighter Squadron, Dickey flew more than 100 combat missions in the Pacific Theater, and it was during this time that he began to experiment with poetry. “I came to poetry with no particular qualifications,” he recounted in Poets on Poetry. “I had begun to suspect, however, that there is a poet—or a kind of poet—buried in every human being like Ariel in his tree, and that the people whom we are pleased to call poets are only those who have felt the need and contrived the means to release this spirit from its prison.”

With his National Book Award-winning collection, Buckdancer’s Choice (1965), he began using the split line and free verse forms that came to be associated with his work. Many of Dickey’s poems explore the perspective of non-human creatures such as horses, dogs, deer, bees, and hybrid animal forms. Such poems attempt to fuse human and nature into a transcendental vision of wholeness. As Benjamin DeMott asserted in the Saturday Review, “everywhere in [Dickey’s] body of writing, in-touchness with ‘the other forms of life’ stands forth as a primary value … The strength of this body of poetry lies in its feeling for the generative power at the core of existence. A first-rate Dickey poem breathes the energy of the world, and testifies to the poet’s capacity for rising out of … habitual, half-lived life.” Dickey died of a lung ailment early in 1997.

—Poem from Drowning with Others, Wesleyan University Press, 1962

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