Welcome to where I am, where my kitchen's always messy, a pot's (or a poet) always about to boil over, a dog is always begging to be fed. Drafts of poems on the counter. Windows filled with leaves. Wind. Clouds moving over the mountains. If you like poetry, books, and music--especially dog howls when a siren unwinds down the hill-- you'll like it here.


MY NEW AUTHOR'S SITE, KATHRYNSTRIPLINGBYER.COM, THAT I MYSELF SET UP THROUGH WEEBLY.COM, IS NOW UP. I HAD FUN CREATING THIS SITE AND WOULD RECOMMEND WEEBLY.COM TO ANYONE INTERESTED IN SETTING UP A WEBSITE. I INVITE YOU TO VISIT MY NEW SITE TO KEEP UP WITH EVENTS RELATED TO MY NEW BOOK.


MY NC POET LAUREATE BLOG, MY LAUREATE'S LASSO, WILL REMAIN UP AS AN ARCHIVE OF NC POETS, GRADES K-INFINITY! I INVITE YOU TO VISIT WHEN YOU FEEL THE NEED TO READ SOME GOOD POEMS.

VISIT MY NEW BLOG, MOUNTAIN WOMAN, WHERE YOU WILL FIND UPDATES ON WHAT'S HAPPENING IN MY KITCHEN, IN THE ENVIRONMENT, IN MY IMAGINATION, IN MY GARDEN, AND AMONG MY MOUNTAIN WOMEN FRIENDS.




Friday, June 26, 2009

The Heaven of Animals

(Arjun's grave beside our garden)


I found James Dickey's poetry one Friday night in the Wesleyan College Library. Just about everybody was out on dates, so I had the place to myself, including the whole American poetry section. That's where I first read The Heaven of Animals, which remains one of my favorite Dickey poems. I thought of it again last night after reading Vicki Lane's post on her blog (see sidebar) about her "sweet Bear" having died under the willow where she liked to sleep. After the loss of our sweet Arjun, that news carried an especially sad weight. Dickey's poem moves into the predator/prey imagery as it closes, which isn't surprising, given Dickey's experience and literary persona as hunter (yes, of various and sundry prey, in the woods and on cocktail/reading circuits). I prefer the first three stanzas when I think of Arjun and Bear.




For Arj, I would have his favorite bush, the one we called his house because he furnished it with old flowerpots and pieces of fence, spreading endlessly over him, and a young girl's lap as capacious the universe, endlessly welcoming. I would have the hydrangea bush, where he also liked to sleep, always blooming.




For Bear, I imagine a willow tree spreading its ongoing canopy as if over a Queen, fields always brimful with scents to snuffle and rabbits to chase, and an unceasing creek to splash into during the heat of the eternal afternoon.




The Heaven of Animals

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.





5 comments:

Vicki Lane said...

How lovely, Kay! Exactly right for Bear. And we'd have buried her under her willow except that it's an area prone to washing in rain storms.
She's behind our house, in a quiet shady place, within earshot of a branch. I haven't decided what to plant on her grave -- too shady for a willow.

That's the sort of heaven I'd like too -- the first part of the poem.

Pat Workman said...

Hauntingly beautiful poem. One I have not read before but will now go back and read often.

We buried our dog, TT, last month out in the front yard. He was always at peace sitting on that spot looking out over the lake and surrounding mountains. Robin planted a pumpkin seed on top of his grave and there are several large blooms now. He loved flowers. Nothing too good for our pet companions.

Susan M. Bell said...

I think Arjun needed a companion and sent the call out to Bear. They are now cavorting and playing together, keeping each other company.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Susan, that's a really beautiful image--I see the young Arjun frisking around with Bear. They'd make a great contrast, wouldn't they, in their coats and style. Thank you for this. I do think spirits send out calls.
Yes, Pat, this is a haunting poem. So many of Dickey's poems, the early ones especially, are so memorable. I always wished his poetic persona weren't so tawdry at times. As one of our very best poets once said, "He treated his gift shabbily."

Kaye Barley said...

Oh, I love Susan's thought about Bear and Arjun being together.

And love this poem. Not one I was familiar with - so thank you Kay, for this introduction.