The Heaven of Animals

Yesterday Ann and I scattered some of Brownie's ashes under the 'birthing tree'--the tree on the farm where the pregnant girls tend to hang out. I read the last two stanzas of James Dickey's poem, The Heaven of Animals. The whole poem is below:

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.

I first read this poem in college (it must be in one of the Norton anthologies) and it has always stuck with me. The poem is somewhat controversial because of the 'having no souls' part: I think some religions believe that but it is not what I believe.

I don't know that much about James Dickey beyond "Deliverance", but here is what I found on one website: "Many of Dickey’s poems also explore the perspective of non-human creatures such as horses, dogs, deer, bees, and hybrid animal forms. Such poems attempt to fuse human and nature into a transcendental vision of wholeness." Source:https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/james-l-dickey

Comments

kathy b said…
They rise, they walk again.... I love the ending
KSD said…
So beautiful.
Rachel said…
I'm a little behind but wanted to get back to this post and thank you for sharing this particular piece. I had never seen it before. I, too, take issue with the having no souls part... You were a special person in Brownie's life.