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By James L. Dickey

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, “The Heaven of Animals” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press, www.wesleyan.edu/wespress.

Source: James Dickey: The Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1998)

  • Living
  • Nature
  • Relationships

Poet Bio

James L. Dickey
Although he considered himself first and foremost a poet, James Dickey is best known for his nightmarish 1970 novel Deliverance, made into a popular film. Born in Georgia, he spent most of his life in the South, working first in advertising and then, following the success of his first books of poetry, as a creative writing professor. His book Buckdancer’s Choice, which featured harrowing poems about his experience as a bomber pilot in WWII and the Korean War, won the 1965 National Book Award. In 1977 Dickey delivered a poem at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration gala. See More By This Poet

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