James Dickey - Comments & Themes

Comments & Themes

  • Dickey's poem "A Dog Sleeping on My Feet" (1962) is strikingly similar to Ted Hughes' "The Thought Fox" (1957). Compare them both and discuss the similarities and differences between them.

  • Dickey and Hughes were working within widely different cultural traditions. What underlying attitudes toward poetry and the relationship between thought and world could explain this interesting example of what the critic Morse Peckham called "cultural convergence"?

  • Another fascinating example of cultural convergence can be found between Dickey's poems and those of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, especially Neruda's Odes. Compare and contrast Dickey's "Encounter in the Cage Country" and Neruda's "Oda a la pantera negra" (from his Tercer libro de las odas).

  • Many other individual poems by these tow authors form the same kind of parallels. Can you find more examples of your own? What reasons can you think of to account for such similarities between a U. S. and Chilean poet?

  • John Keats once described the poet as follows: "As to the poetical Character [...] it has no self-It is everything and nothing-It has no character [...]. A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no Identity-he is continually in for and filling some other body [...]. While Dickey certainly had a very strong personality, much of his poetry is characterized by this "negative capability", the gift of entering, through the imagination, into the "being" of other creatures and natural elements. Talk about how he does this in poems like "A Dog Sleeping on My Feet", "The Heaven of Animals", "A Screened Porch in the Country" and "Inside the River".

  • Dickey's poetry is quite accessible and could often be entertaining and humorous. What aspects of humor and ironic self-criticism can you find in "In the Marble Quarry", "Encounter in the Cage Country" and "The Birthday Dream"?

  • This is how Dickey described one of the main aims of his poetry in the mid-60s:


    "I have always striven [...] to find some way to incarnate my best moments-those which in memory are most persistent and obsessive. I find that most of these moments have an element of danger, an element of repose and an element of joy. I should like now to develop a writing instrument which would be capable of embodying these moments and their attendant states of mend, and I would be most pleased if readers came away from my poems not at all sure as to where the danger and repose separate, where joy ends and longing begins. Strongly mixed emotions are what I usually have [...] strongly mixed, but giving the impression of being one emotion, impure and overwhelming-that is the condition I am seeking to impose on my readers."

    To which poems in the selection here do you think this description could be correctly applied, and why?

  • In what ways could it be argued that Dickey's poetry continues the Romantic tradition of William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson? Give special attention to Wordsworth's "Preface" to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads and Emerson's essay "The Poet".