About the Author
Read an Excerpt
FROM INTO THE STONE AND OTHER POEMS
SLEEPING OUT AT EASTER
All dark is now no more.
This forest is drawing a light.
All Presences change into trees.
One eye opens slowly without me.
My sight is the same as the sun's,
For this is the grave of the king,
Where the earth turns, waking a choir.
All dark is now no more.
Birds speak, their voices beyond them.
A light has told them their song.
My animal eyes become human As the Word rises out of the darkness Where my right hand, buried beneath me,
Hoveringly tingles, with grasping The source of all song at the root.
Birds sing, their voices beyond them.
Put down those seeds in your hand. These trees have not yet been planted.
A light should come round the world,
Yet my army blanket is dark,
That shall sparkle with dew in the sun.
My magical shepherd's cloak Is not yet alive on my flesh.
Put down those seeds in your hand.
In your palm is the secret of waking.
Unclasp your purple-nailed fingers And the wood and the sunlight together Shall spring, and make good the world.
The sounds in the air shall find bodies,
And a feather shall drift from the pine-top You shall feel, with your long-buried hand.
In your palm is the secret of waking,
For the king's grave turns him to light.
A woman shall look through the window And see me here, huddled and blazing.
My child, mouth open, still sleeping,
Hears the song in the egg of a bird.
The sun shall have told him that song Of a father returning from darkness,
For the king's grave turns you to light.
All dark is now no more.
In your palm is the secret of waking.
Put down those seeds in your hand;
All Presences change into trees.
A feather shall drift from the pine-top.
The sun shall have told you this song,
For this is the grave of the king;
For the king's grave turns you to light.
THE VEGETABLE KING
Just after the sun Has closed, I swing the fresh paint of the door And have opened the new, green dark.
From my house and my silent folk I step, and lay me in ritual down.
One night each April I unroll the musty sleeping-bag And beat from it a cloud of sleeping moths.
I leave the house, which leaves Its window-light on the ground
In gold frames picturing grass,
And lie in the unconsecrated grove Of small, suburban pines,
And never move, as the ground not ever shall move,
Remembering, remembering to feel
The still earth turn my house around the sun Where all is dark, unhoped-for, and undone.
I cannot sleep until the lights are out,
And the lights of the house of grass, also,
Snap off, from underground.
Beneath the gods and animals of Heaven,
Mismade inspiringly, like them,
I fall to a colored sleep Enveloping the house, or coming out Of the dark side of the sun,
And begin to believe a dream I never once have had,
Of being part of the acclaimed rebirth Of the ruined, calm world, in spring,
When the drowned god and the dreamed-of sun
Unite, to bring the red, the blue,
The common yellow flower out of earth Of the tended and untended garden: when the chosen man,
Hacked apart in the growing cold Of the year, by the whole of mindless nature is assembled
From the trembling, untroubled river.
I believe I become that man, become As bloodless as a god, within the water,
Who yet returns to walk a woman's rooms Where flowers on the mantel-piece are those
Bought by his death. A warm wind springs From the curtains. Blue china and milk on the table Are mild, convincing, and strange.
At that time it is light,
And, as my eyelid lifts
An instant before the other, the last star is withdrawn Alive, from its fiery fable.
I would not think to move,
Nor cry, "I live," just yet,
Nor shake the twinkling horsehair of my head,
Nor rise, nor shine, nor live With any but the slant, green, mummied light And wintry, bell-swung undergloom of waters Wherethrough my severed head has prophesied For the silent daffodil and righteous
Leaf, and now has told the truth.
This is the time foresaid, when I must enter The waking house, and return to a human love Cherished on faith through winter:
That time when I in the night
Of water lay, with sparkling animals of light And distance made, with gods Which move through Heaven only as the spheres Are moved: by music, music.
Mother, son, and wife
Who live with me: I am in death And waking. Give me the looks that recall me.
None knows why you have waited In the cold, thin house for winter To turn the inmost sunlight green
And blue and red with life,
But it must be so, since you have set These flowers upon the table, and milk for him Who, recurring in this body, bears you home Magnificent pardon, and dread, impending crime.
The last time I saw Donald Armstrong He was staggering oddly off into the sun,
Going down, of the Philippine Islands.
I let my shovel fall, and put that hand Above my eyes, and moved some way to one side That his body might pass through the sun,
And I saw how well he was not Standing there on his hands,
On his spindle-shanked forearms balanced,
Unbalanced, with his big feet looming and waving In the great, untrustworthy air He flew in each night, when it darkened.
Dust fanned in scraped puffs from the earth Between his arms, and blood turned his face inside out,
To demonstrate its suppleness Of veins, as he perfected his role.
Next day, he toppled his head off On an island beach to the south,
And the enemy's two-handed sword Did not fall from anyone's hands At that miraculous sight,
As the head rolled over upon Its wide-eyed face, and fell Into the inadequate grave
He had dug for himself, under pressure.
Yet I put my flat hand to my eyebrows Months later, to see him again In the sun, when I learned how he died,
And imagined him, there,
Come, judged, before his small captors,
Doing all his lean tricks to amaze them —
The back somersault, the kip-up —
And at last, the stand on his hands,
Perfect, with his feet together,
His head down, evenly breathing,
As the sun poured up from the sea
And the headsman broke down In a blaze of tears, in that light Of the thin, long human frame Upside down in its own strange joy,
And, if some other one had not told him,
Would have cut off the feet
Instead of the head,
And if Armstrong had not presently risen In kingly, round-shouldered attendance,
And then knelt down in himself Beside his hacked, glittering grave, having done All things in this life that he could.
FROM DROWNING WITH OTHERS
In a stable of boats I lie still,
From all sleeping children hidden.
The leap of a fish from its shadow Makes the whole lake instantly tremble.
With my foot on the water, I feel The moon outside
Take on the utmost of its power.
I rise and go out through the boats.
I set my broad sole upon silver,
On the skin of the sky, on the moonlight,
Stepping outward from earth onto water In quest of the miracle
This village of children believed That I could perform as I dived For one who had sunk from my sight.
I saw his cropped haircut go under.
I leapt, and my steep body flashed Once, in the sun.
Dark drew all the light from my eyes.
Like a man who explores his death By the pull of his slow-moving shoulders,
I hung head down in the cold,
Wide-eyed, contained, and alone Among the weeds,
And my fingertips turned into stone From clutching immovable blackness.
Time after time I leapt upward Exploding in breath, and fell back From the change in the children's faces At my defeat.
Beneath them I swam to the boathouse With only my life in my arms To wait for the lake to shine back At the risen moon with such power That my steps on the light of the ripples Might be sustained.
Beneath me is nothing but brightness Like the ghost of a snowfield in summer.
As I move toward the center of the lake,
Which is also the center of the moon,
I am thinking of how I may be The savior of one
Who has already died in my care.
The dark trees fade from around me.
The moon's dust hovers together.
I call softly out, and the child's Voice answers through blinding water.
He rises, dilating to break The surface of stone with his forehead.
He is one I do not remember Having ever seen in his life.
The ground I stand on is trembling Upon his smile.
I wash the black mud from my hands.
On a light given off by the grave I kneel in the quick of the moon At the heart of a distant forest And hold in my arms a child Of water, water, water.
LISTENING TO FOXHOUNDS
When in that gold Of fires, quietly sitting With the men whose brothers are hounds,
You hear the first tone Of a dog on scent, you look from face To face, to see whose will light up.
When that light comes Inside the dark light of the fire,
You know which chosen man has heard
A thing like his own dead Speak out in a marvelous, helpless voice That he has been straining to hear.
Miles away in the dark,
His enchanted dog can sense How his features glow like a savior's,
And begins to hunt In a frenzy of desperate pride.
Among us, no one's eyes give off a light
For the red fox Playing in and out of his scent,
Leaping stones, doubling back over water.
Who runs with the fox Must sit here like his own image,
Giving nothing of himself
To the sensitive flames,
With no human joy rising up,
Coming out of his face to be seen.
And it is hard,
When the fox leaps into his burrow,
To keep that singing down,
To sit with the fire Drawn into one's secret features,
And all eyes turning around
From the dark wood Until they come, amazed, upon A face that does not shine
Back from itself,
That holds its own light and takes more,
Like the face of the dead, sitting still,
Giving no sign,
Making no outcry, no matter Who may be straining to hear.
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.
IN THE TREE HOUSE AT NIGHT
And now the green household is dark.
The half-moon completely is shining On the earth-lighted tops of the trees.
To be dead, a house must be still.
The floor and the walls wave me slowly;
I am deep in them over my head.
The needles and pine cones about me
Are full of small birds at their roundest,
Their fist without mercy gripping Hard down through the tree to the roots To sing back at light when they feel it.
We lie here like angels in bodies,
My brothers and I, one dead,
The other asleep from much living,
In mid-air huddled beside me.
Dark climbed to us here as we climbed Up the nails I have hammered all day Through the sprained, comic rungs of the ladder Of broom handles, crate slats, and laths Foot by foot up the trunk to the branches Where we came out at last over lakes
Of leaves, of fields disencumbered of earth That move with the moves of the spirit.
Each nail that sustains us I set here;
Each nail in the house is now steadied By my dead brother's huge, freckled hand.
Through the years, he has pointed his hammer Up into these limbs, and told us
That we must ascend, and all lie here.
Step after step he has brought me,
Embracing the trunk as his body,
Shaking its limbs with my heartbeat,
Till the pine cones danced without wind And fell from the branches like apples.
In the arm-slender forks of our dwelling
I breathe my live brother's light hair.
The blanket around us becomes As solid as stone, and it sways.
With all my heart, I close The blue, timeless eye of my mind.
Wind springs, as my dead brother smiles And touches the tree at the root;
A shudder of joy runs up The trunk; the needles tingle;
One bird uncontrollably cries.
The wind changes round, and I stir Within another's life. Whose life?
Who is dead? Whose presence is living?
When may I fall strangely to earth,
Who am nailed to this branch by a spirit?
Can two bodies make up a third?
To sing, must I feel the world's light?
My green, graceful bones fill the air With sleeping birds. Alone, alone And with them I move gently.
I move at the heart of the world.
HUNTING CIVIL WAR RELICS ATNIMBLEWILL CREEK
As he moves the mine detector A few inches over the ground,
Making it vitally float Among the ferns and weeds,
I come into this war Slowly, with my one brother,
Watching his face grow deep Between the earphones,
For I can tell If we enter the buried battle Of Nimblewill Only by his expression.
Softly he wanders, parting The grass with a dreaming hand.
No dead cry yet takes root In his clapped ears Or can be seen in his smile.
But underfoot I feel
The dead regroup, The burst metals all in place,
The battle lines be drawn Anew to include us In Nimblewill,
And I carry the shovel and pick
More as if they were Bright weapons that I bore.
A bird's cry breaks In two, and into three parts.
We cross the creek; the cry Shifts into another,
Nearer, bird, and is Like the shout of a shadow —
Lived-with, appallingly close —
Or the soul, pronouncing
Three tones; your being changes.
We climb the bank;
A faint light glows On my brother's mouth.
I listen, as two birds fight For a single voice, but he Must be hearing the grave,
In pieces, all singing To his clamped head,
For he smiles as if He rose from the dead within Green Nimblewill And stood in his grandson's shape.
No shot from the buried war Shall kill me now,
For the dead have waited here A hundred years to create Only the look on the face Of my one brother,
Who stands among them, offering A metal dish Afloat in the trembling weeds,
With a long-buried light on his lips At Nimblewill And the dead outsinging two birds.
I choke the handle Of the pick, and fall to my knees To dig wherever he points,
To bring up mess tin or bullet,
To go underground Still singing, myself,
Without a sound,
Like a man who renounces war,
Or one who shall lift up the past,
Not breathing "Father,"
But saying, "Fathers! Fathers!"
Excerpted from "James Dickey"
Copyright © 1998 Matthew J. Bruccoli, Literary Personal Representative of the Estate of 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
May Day Sermon to the Women of Gilmer County, Georgia, by a Woman,
Preacher Leaving the Baptist Church,
from Into the Stone and Other Poems (1960),
Sleeping Out at Easter,
The Vegetable King,
from Drowning with Others (1962),
Listening to Foxhounds,
The Heaven of Animals,
In the Tree House at Night,
Hunting Civil War Relics at Nimblewill Creek,
from Helmets (1964),
The Dusk of Horses,
A Folk Singer of the Thirties,
Drinking from a Helmet,
from Buckdancer's Choice (1965),
The Shark's Parlor,
from Falling (published in Poems, 1957–1967) (1967),
The Sheep Child,
For the Last Wolverine,
from The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy (1970),
from The Strength of Fields (1979),
Root-light, or the Lawyer's Daughter,
The Strength of Fields,
The Rain Guitar,
False Youth: Autumn: Clothes of the Age,
from Puella (1982),
Tapestry and Sail,
from The Eagle's Mile (1990),
The Eagle's Mile,
from Double-tongue: Collaborations and Rewrites,
Purgation (second version),
Index of Titles and First Lines,
What People are Saying About This
"For years we have needed a judicious selection from the poems of James Dickey, a book that would bring new readers to the best of his work. With generosity and tact, Robert Kirschten has given us that book."
"An accessible and wieldy representation of Dickey's verse for specialists, students, and the general reader."
"For years we have needed a judicious selection from the poems of James Dickey, a book that would bring new readers to the best of his work. With generosity and tact, Robert Kirschten has given us that book." David Mason
"An accessible and wieldy representation of Dickey's verse for specialists, students, and the general reader."Sydney Lea