The Eagle's Mile

The Eagle's Mile

by James Dickey


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A book of new poems by a major writer is an event. A book of new poems that marks a different, more powerful approach is cause for celebration. "What I looked for here," James Dickey tells us about The Eagle's Mile, "was a flicker of light 'from another direction,' and when I caught it – or thought I did – I followed where it went, for better or worse." In this new work, Dickey edges away from the narrative-based poems of his previous books and gives instead more primacy to the language in which he writes. His poetry gains flexibility, and his poetic power becomes even surer and more clearly expressed. "I have experimented," Dickey writes, "and look forward to experimenting more."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819511874
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 10/01/1990
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.26(d)

About the Author

JAMES DICKEY, born in Atlanta in 1923, is most widely known as the author of the novel and screenplay Deliverance. He is also the author of several other novels and fifteen books of poetry. His many honors include the National Book Award and a Melville Cane Award for Buckdancer's Choice (1965). He was invited to read at President Carter's inauguration in 1977, and most recently served as Judge of the prestigious Yale Younger Poets series. He died in 1997 in South Carolina.

Read an Excerpt



If I told you I used to know the circular truth Of the void,
that I have been all over it building My height receiving overlook

And that my feathers were not Of feather-make, but broke from a desire to drink The rain before it falls or as it is falling:

If I were to tell you that the rise of any free bird Is better the larger the bird is,

And that I found myself one of these Without surprise, you would understand

That this makes of air a thing that would be liberty Enough for any world but this one,
And could see how I should have gone

Up and out of all all of it

On feathers glinting

Multitudinously as rain, as silica-sparks around One form with wings, as it is hammered loose From rock, at dead Of classic light: that is, at dead

Of light.

Believe, too,
While you're at it, that the flight of eagles has For use, long muscles steeped only

In escape,
and moves through Clouds that will open to nothing

But if, where the bird leaves behind All sympathy: leaves The man who, for twenty lines Of a new poem, thought he would not be shut From those wings: believed

He could be going. I speak to you from where

I was shook off: I say again, shook Like thís, the words I had When I could not spread:

When thát bird rose Without my shoulders: Leave my unstretched weight,
My sympathy grovelling In weeds and nothing, and go up from the human downbeat in my hand. Go up without anything

Of me in your wings, but remember me in your feet

As you fold them. The higher rock is The more it lives. Where you take hold, Í will take

Thát stand in my mind, rock bird alive with the spirit=
life of height,
on my down-thousands Of fathoms, classic

Claw-stone, everything under.

Gila Bend

Where aerial gunnery was, you think at first a cadaver

On foot might get through

Forty years after. Shots of space pelter back

Off the dead bullets; walking, you should brand, brand The ground but you don't: you leave

Not a thing moving on a sand mountain Smashed flat by something that didn't know What else to do.

This silver small-stone heat No man can cross; no man could get

To his feet, even to rise face-out

Full-force from the grave, where the sun is down on hím

Alone, harder than resurrection Is úp: down harder

harder Much harder than that.


Beaches; it is true: they go on on And on, but as they ram and pack, foreseeing

Around a curve, always slow-going headlong

For the circle swerving from water But not really, their minds on a perfect connection, no matter How long it takes. You can't be On them without making the choice To meet yourself no matter

How long. Don't be afraid;
It will come will hit you

Straight out of the wind, on wings or not,
Where you have blanked yourself

Still with your feet. It may be raining

In twilight, a sensitive stripping Of arrow-feathers, a lost trajectory struck Stock-stilling through them,
or where you cannot tell If the earth is green or red,

Basically, or if the rock with your feet on it Has floated over the water. As for where you are standing

Nów, there are none of those things; there are only In one shallow spray-pool thís one

Strong horses circling. Stretch and tell me, Lord;
Let the place talk.

This may just be it.

Night Bird

Some beating in there

That has bunched, and backed Up in it out of moonlight, and now Is somewhere around. You are sure that like a curving grave

It must be able to fall and rise and fall and that's

Right, and rise on your left hand or other

Or behind your back on one hand

You don't have and suddenly there is no limit

To what a man can get out of His failure to see:
this gleam

Of air down the nape of the neck, and in it everything There is of flight and nothing else,
and it is

All right and all over you From around as you are carried

In yourself and there is no way To nothing-but-walk —

No way and a bidden flurry And a half-you of air.


You sit here on solid sand banks trying to figure What the difference is when you see The sun and at the same time see the ocean Has no choice: none, but to advance more or less As it does:

waves Which were, a moment ago, actual Bodiless sounds that could have been airborne,
Now bring you nothing but face-off

After face-off, with only gravitational sprawls Laid in amongst them. To those crests Dying hard, you have nothing to say:
you cannot help it

If you emerge; it is not your fault. You show: you stare

Into the cancelling gullies, saved only by dreaming a future Of walking forward, in which you can always go flat

Flat down where the shallows have fallen Clear: where water is shucked of all wave-law:
Lies running: runs

In skylight, gradually cleaning, and you gaze straight into

The whole trembling forehead of yourself Under you, and at your feet find your body

No different from cloud, among the other See-through images, as you are flawingly Thought of,
but purely, somewhere,

Somewhere in all thought.

Two Women


Alone here. Beach, drum out What you want to say: a dolphin,
Sockets, sword-flats. Seething landscape of hilts, no limits are set

In you. Sand, sand,
Hear me out: Hear me out with wind Going over, past All sound but sand. Listen,

Clean vastness, I am alone here.
I should be, for I have No mark.

Woman, because I don't love you,
Draw back the first

Of your feet, for the other will fall After it, and keep on coming. Hold back

A little, your printed pursuit, your

Unstemming impurity.


Early light: light less Than other light. Sandal without power To mark sand. Softly,
Her hair downward-burning, she walks here, her foot-touch

The place itself,

Like sand-grains, unintended,

Born infinite.



Always as it holds us in one place, the earth Grows as it moves, exhaling Its rooted joy. I stand in tracks Where nothing starves. Vegetation, green blush,
You and I sail today Through newly infinite Space on this surfeited hillside. Complacency has its own force

Leafed-out with renewal. I cannot be anything But alive, in a place as far

From the blank and the stark, as this.


Air, much greater than the sea —
More basic, more human than the sea: all thát air Is calm:
unpeopled, wearing the high lucidity

Of vigil. Maybe one day the mere surface Of the earth will feel you. But the air You can never keep doesn't know When it lived in your chest:

Mindless, nerveless, breathless,
The air glitters All the outside, and keeps carrying

You from within.


Who told you that the sea said something,
Something toward the beaches?
Let it spread more, belligerent with light,
Saying one thing, resounding,

Up front for all of us!

To the Butterflies

— homage, Central America

Open windows; we always have them, háve To have them. We widen

Them all, and butterflies come in, and come

To rest on our mirrors, breathing with their wings

Almost like light,
Or better, almost like flight,

And then leave. Others come,
Háve to come, and some of the time this happens We are singing, trying hard,

But it comes out a croak From dryness, and when we move it is like Moving muscles of powder, but Really no muscles are on us; they are all gone Into sweat. Every light the hand turns on Hurts the eyes, and there is nowhere on earth That the heels of the feet Are so hot, and they cannot be cooled.

I love to know nothing

Of the sun; I love to feel

That I float, forgotten,
with two warm rivers That cannot touch me, on a stream come down Between them from a mountain Of frozen rain. We all have wanted,

Too long, not to have our tears,
Our salt-showing tears, dry before anyone Can see them, dry Before we can feel them,
Or find out what they really have To do with grief. To say that I am not true To fever is to say I am not Loyal to my green country,
not true, not real Myself,
so I say it in secret

In steam: Forgive me, butterflies:
I know you have to have All this heat for your colors,
but you are breathless, too,
In spite of your breathing

Wings and God help me I must say it before I melt Into the sugar-sick ground:
If we could do it

Without dimming the butterflies, we should find some way

To get on the good side of North: Yes North and enough

Cold: Yes cold

And snow! I've heard of it! Flakes lilting onto us!

Life light on the common grave

Shapeless with swelter! Every tongue of us out

To be new to that taste! Mountains of rain Gone into feather-fall Floating us out of it! But not dimming not fading The butterflies

or the hats and handkerchiefs.
Let the wings on our mirrors

In whatever falls

Keep breathing Keep burning and us, Lord, please —

And us in the dresses and shirts.

The One

No barometer but yellow Forecast of wide fields that they give out Themselves, giving out they stand In total freedom,

And wíll stand and day is down all of it

On an ear of corn. One. The color one:
One, nearly transparent With existence. The tree at the fence must be kept

Outside, between winds; let it wait. Its movement,

Any movement, is not

In the distillation. Block it there. Let everything bring it To an all-time stop just short of new Wind just short

Of its leaves; its other leaves.




All others not.



The Three

I alone, solemn land clear, clean land,

See your change, just as you give up part Of your reality:
a scythe-sighing flight of low birds Now being gone:
I, oversouling for an instant

With them,
I alone See you as more than you would have

Bé seen, yourself:
Dark grassland, with three birds higher Than those that have left.
They are u there

With great power:
so high they take this evening for good Into their force-lines. I alone move

Where the other birds were, the low ones,
Still swaying in the unreal direction

Flocking with them. They are gone

And will always be gone; even where they believe They were is disappearing. But thése three Have the height to power-line all

Land: land t is clear. Any three birds hanging high enough From you trace the same paths As strong horses circling for a man alone, born level-eyed As a pasture, but like the land Tilting, looking up.
This may be it, too.

The Six

When you think strong enough, you get something You don't mean And you dó: something prized-out,
Splintered, like a rock quarry going Through you and over you Like love, and past and on

Like love: whatever arms, legs, head,

Breastbone, whatever feet and hands you love most,
Most want to live And die with, are given out as flying Related rock; are charged With the life that lives By means of stone. The body of your lover tries to form and be

Those six stones. For some reason

They are hurtling, and if you meet them head-on You will know something nobody means

But her. She is moving at the speed of light

Some place else, and though she passes Through you like rock-salt, she is still six And not one.

But neither is the rain Single, blotting number and stone With vibrancy; neither is the rain, I tell you,
Man riddled with rocks And lust:
the rain putting out

Your wretched, sympathetic Stone-jawed poetic head, its allotted Fresh bodies falling as you stand

In amongst, falling and more Than falling falling more

Falling now falling

More than now.


Stars and grass Have between them a connection I'd like to make More of — find some way to bring them

To one level any way I can,
And put many weeds in amongst. O woman, now that I'm thinking,
Be in there somewhere! Until now, of the things I made up Only the weeds are any good: Between them,

Nondescript and tough, I pccr,
The backs of my hands

At the sides of my face, parting the stringy stalks.
Tangible, distant woman, here the earth waits for you With what it does not need To guess: with what it truly has In its hands. Through pigweed and sawgrass

Move; move sharply; move in Through anything,
and hurt, if you have to. Don't come down;

Come forward. A man loves you.


All bubbles travelling

In tubes, and being lights: up down and around They were: blue, red and every man uncaught

And guilty. Prison-paleness Over the street between strobes Unfailingly. But no light On top of anything moving, until The last, one:
one. Whoever it was switched it

Dead when he saw me. Winter; not dreamlike but a dream and cars Of that. I took my stand where they were called By absent law to stop, obstructedly raging

And I could not get in. All their windows Were sealed and throbbing With strobe, red and blue, red and blue

And go. One pulled out of the flight Of others; pulled up and may have had back-road Dust on it red dust in a last shot Of blue. A man in a cowboy hat rolled down

The window on my side. His voice Was home-born Southern; Oklahoma, Texas,
Could have been. Manhandling my overcoat, I slid In there with him. Central Park South, I said,
A war-safety zone; the St. Moritz.

He turned up

One of the streets with no lights. Into the seat I settled; black buildings thickened Around us, high tenements flattening Into squares; warehouses now,

They were; maybe docks. I watched. No birds.
No trash-cans. The car died

Between two alley walls

And froze, and a voice at last, still Out of Oklahoma, said "I want your money."
We were present In silence. A brought-on up-backward thock

Took place, and on the fresh blade A light alive in the hand New-born with spring-shock. It was mine At sixty. "I want your car," I said.

The Eagle's Mile

for Justice William Douglas
The Emmet's Inch & Eagle's Mile

— Blake

Unwarned, catch into this With everything you have:
the trout streaming with all its quick In the strong curve all things on all sides In motion the soul strenuous And still in time-flow as in water blowing Fresh and for a long time

Downhill something like air it is Also and it is dawn

There in merciless look-down As though an eagle or Adam In lightning, or both, were watching uncontrollably For meat, among the leaves. Douglas, with you The soul tries it one-eyed, half your sight left hanging in a river In England, long before you died,

And now thát one, that and the new one Struck from death's instant —
Lightning's: like mankind on impulse blind-
siding God — true-up together and ride On silence, enraptured surveillance,

The eagle's mile. Catch into this, and broaden

Into and over

The mountain rivers, over the leaf-tunnel path:

Appalachia, where the trail lies always hidden

Like prey, through the trembling south-north of the forest Continent, from Springer Mountain to Maine,
And you may walk

Using not surpassing

The trout's hoisted stand-off with the channel,
Or power-hang the same in the shattered nerves Of lightning: like Adam find yourself splintering out Somewhere on the eagle's mile, on peerless, barbaric distance Clairvoyant with hunger,

Or can begin can be begin to be What out-gentles, and may evade:
This second of the second year Of death, it would be best for the living If it were your impulse to step out of grass-bed sleep As valuably as cautiously

As a spike-buck, head humming with the first male split Of the brain-bone, as it tunes to the forked twigs Of the long trail

Where Douglas you once walked in a white shirt as a man In the early fall, fire-breathing with oak-leaves,
Your patched tunnel-gaze exactly right For the buried track,
the England-curved water strong Far-off with your other sight, both fresh-waters marbling together

Supporting not surpassing

What flows what balances

In it. Douglas, power-hang in it all now, for all The whole thing is worth: catch without warning

Somewhere in the North Georgia creek like ghost-muscle tensing Forever, or on the high grass-bed Yellow of dawn, catch like a man stamp-printed by God-
shock, blue as the very foot Of fire. Catch into the hunted Horns of the buck, and thus into the deepest hearing —
Nerveless, all bone, bone-tuned To leaves and twigs — with the grass drying wildly When you woke where you stood with all blades rising Behind you, and stepped out possessing the trail,
The racked bramble on either side shining Like a hornet, your death drawing life From growth from flow, as in the gill-cleansing turn Of the creek or from the fountain-twist

Of flight, that rounds you Off, and shies you downwind Side-faced, all-seeing with hunger,

And over this, steep and straight-up In the eagle's mile Let Adam, far from the closed smoke of mills And blue as the foot Of every flame, true-up with blind-side outflash The once-more instantly Wild world: over Brasstown Bald

Splinter uncontrollably whole.


Excerpted from "The Eagle's Mile"
by .
Copyright © 1990 James Dickey.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Gila Bend,
Night Bird,
Two Women,
To the Butterflies,
The One,
The Three,
The Six,
The Eagle's Mile,
The Olympian,
The Little More,
For a Time and Place,
Meadow Bridge,
Tomb Stone,
To Be Done in Winter,
Moon Flock,
Snow Thickets,
Double-tongue: Collaborations and Rewrites,
Lakes of Värmland,
Attempted Departure,

What People are Saying About This

Karl Shapiro

“This is breathless breath-taking torrential poetry in the high metaphysical style.”

John Updike

“James Dickey is the high flier of contemporary American poets. In The Eagle’s Mile he is flying higher than ever, so high the earth is reduced to its elements, its essential radiance”

From the Publisher

"James Dickey is the high flier of contemporary American poets. In The Eagle's Mile he is flying higher than ever, so high the earth is reduced to its elements, its essential radiance" —John Updike

"This is breathless breath-taking torrential poetry in the high metaphysical style." —Karl Shapiro

"Dickey is no ruminator or meditator. Perception with him is not a static matter. It is characteristically, whatever his subject, a clash, a confrontation, something that might happen in a cyclotron; and the particles that are struck off are new and packed with primal energy, particles of order destroyed during the act of creation . . . What I am left with is an awed sense of the pure power of these words."—Wallace Stegner

Wallace Stegner

“Dickey is no ruminator or meditator. Perception with him is not a static matter. It is characteristically, whatever his subject, a clash, a confrontation, something that might happen in a cyclotron; and the particles that are struck off are new and packed with primal energy, particles of order destroyed during the act of creation . . . What I am left with is an awed sense of the pure power of these words.”

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