The strength of James Dickey’s poetry lies in this southern writer’s ability to turn a commonplace event into a moment of personal transcendence. His poems never simply lie flat on a page; instead, they shout with intense—sometimes shocking—imagery and action. Dickey’s poems and his novels (most notably Deliverance, which became a major film in 1973) often present common people doing common things. But there is always a twist or a rise to an unexpected level that moves the persona and the themes into a realm far beyond what the simple action may imply.
In “The Hospital Window,” the speaker has been visiting his gravely ill father in the hospital, and, as he leaves the building, he turns to wave toward the window that he believes is in his father’s room. This is something that anyone might do in a similar situation. Once outside, however, the son experiences a rapturous moment of true understanding—both of his father’s impending death and of his own resignation to mortality. So strong is this sudden transcendence beyond grief and pain that he stands in the middle of the street continuing to wave while traffic backs up and angry drivers begin blowing their horns. Even the honking horns become a part of the speaker’s rising spirit and sense of euphoria, and he incorporates them into his dreamlike state, imagining that the loud noises can “blow down the walls of the world” and set the souls of the dying free. In this poem, the hospital window is much more than a pane of glass, and Dickey once again manages to turn a simple gesture into personal revelation.