The Eagle’s Mile

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this volume, James Dickey returns to some of the concerns in his earlier poetry, among them the individual’s search for affirmation through strength of spirit and the imagination in facing life’s mysteries. The title poem is dedicated to the late Justice William Douglas, who was an avid outdoorsman. Flying high on Dickey’s impressive lyrical gifts, the poem fairly soars above trout streams, forest trails, and Smoky Mountain vistas. Here Dickey seems to be saying that to experience nature fully, one must orient oneself to that region where inner and outer landscapes converge. One comes away with an uplifting sense of nature’s capacity to renew body and soul in “the gill-cleansing turn/ Of the creek.” In “Gila Bend” the poet returns to a desert aerial gunnery range where he once trained. His desire to retrace the tattered trails left by his bullets is thwarted by the sun’s relentlessly oppressive heat. Instead of the connection with the past that the poet is seeking, he finds a “silver small-stone heat/ No man can cross ... “

"Daughter” is a fully realized conjuration of the “all-night night” of the fathers’ waiting room in a maternity ward. Here Dickey’s language carries the true voltage of the experience of seeing his just-delivered daughter: “I peer into wool: a creature/ Somewhat strangely more than red. Dipped in fire.”

Besides those poems dealing with nature, other poems in the collection are set at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and on the mean streets of Manhattan. “To Be Done in Winter” is offered in memoriam to Truman Capote. The collection ends with nine poems written either as collaborations with other poets or as rewrites. There is a muscular elegance in the poems in THE EAGLE’S MILE and many startling phrases. The lyrical exuberance of lines like “a scythe-sighing flight of low birds” and “rocky water falling like a mountain/ Ledge-to-ledge naturally headlong” confirms the continued mastery and power of James Dickey as one of America’s foremost contemporary poets.