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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


Dickey is amazingly descriptive throughout this poem despite using minimal words in each stanza. There are hidden meanings in each stanza, which contribute to the overall meaning of the poem. For example, in the first stanza, Dickey writes “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.”  In this stanza, Dickey is saying that looking into the eyes of an animal is like looking into the depths of their soul; you get a glimpse of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen and experienced without either one saying anything. The last line of the first stanza, “”Under their feet forever.”, lets the reader know that the animals Dickey talks about throughout the poem are in heaven (Dickey uses the word “forever”). Throughout this poem, Dickey describes predators and prey and how they are both interconnected. In the first part of this poem, Dickey describes innocence and the unsuspecting, typical characteristics of young prey. In the second part of the poem, Dickey describes slyness, cunningness, and wit, which are more characteristic of predatory animals. Dickey ties both predator and prey back together at the end of the poem by saying that although predators and prey are separate entities, they are a part of the same cycle: the cycle of life.

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