Tuesday’s Poem 4/28/09

In memory of Pangur Ban

James Dickey – “The Heaven of Animals”

‘The Heaven of Animals’ by James 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.

Commentary

A number of writers have written about animals in the afterlife – Neruda, for example, believing that his dog would be in a doggy heaven, even though otherwise he refused to believe in a heaven for humans (see “A Dog Has Died”). But I think Dickey has written about it the best; if I really believed animals had an afterlife, I would want it to be the one he describes in this poem.

Despite the fact that he describes the predator and prey aspect as the main feature of this bestial empyrean, there’s something very tender about this. They have soft eyes that open to their realm. Their eternal reward is to enjoy that which they enjoyed on earth; but it is not a fulfillment of greed or ego, simply a perfection of what was – the sharpest claws, the most cunning stealth. Theirs is a less burdensome paradise, uncorrupted by any human notions of grandiosity. There, they just are – “beyond all knowing” – forever. It makes me feel like I’d rather go to animal heaven than people heaven!

Even the prey animals sound like they have it good – I wouldn’t mind walking around without fear, feeling accepted, a part of everything, even if it meant I would be torn apart – so long as I knew I would rise and walk again.

Whether it be the mouse, rabbit, gazelle, leaf, or grass, let us imagine the manna of the heaven of animals nourishing our earthly companions for eternity.

Advertisements

One Response to Tuesday’s Poem 4/28/09

  1. Angele Ellis says:

    Thank you for dedicating Tuesday’s poem to the memory of the “sovereign” cat Pangur Ban, whose predatory eyes MAY be “soft” in Dickey’s animal Elysian Fields–as they never were in this realm, even in death.

    My favorite part of “The Heaven of Animals” begins in stanza four:

    “For some of these, it could not be the place
    It is, without blood…”

    The introduction of blood into the animal afterlife completes Dickey’s transformation–at moments, a transmogrification–of the eternal “cycle” of predator and prey in ways both profound and humorous. The following lines brought to mind my fierce, belated Pangur Ban:

    “…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…”

    But even more striking is the speaker’s casting of the eternal “prey” at the “center” of this dream-drama, playing the role of Lazarus, of certain indestructible martyrs, of Christ himself:

    “…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.”

    Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: