Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The two most salient features of Powers’s direct, simple style in “Lions, Harts, Leaping Does” are his effective use of weather and landscape and the development of the allegory represented by the bird in the cage. The “angular winter daylight” proves to be a pathetic fallacy that complements the somber spiritual considerations of Didymus’s inner life: The first scene, with Titus reading from “Bishop Bale’s funny book,” is bathed by the dying light of a cold winter day, and as they emerge from the buildings into the outdoors, the “freezing air” bites into their bodies and they pace a walkway littered with shards of ice. Didymus’s face becomes “a slab of pasteboard” and his eyes water. Such imagery suits the climate of Didymus’s soul as he pursues his solitary quest for an answer to his spiritual fate. Nowhere is there any greenness, any fullness of life. Even the canary is mute and joyless, enduring its alien habitat with resignation and longing for freedom.

When Titus first brings the canary to Didymus’s room, the bird chirps cheerfully, and for a while it enjoys the swing that Titus provides for it. Gradually, though, the creature tires of looking out the window on the bleak snowscape, and its sadness reflects the weariness in Didymus’s heart. The two of them share a tacit fellowship: “Nothing was lost of the communion he kept with the canary.” As a symbol of Didymus’s soul, the canary matches its moods to the priest’s. As Didymus lies dying, “the canary perched in the dark atop the cage, head warm under wing, already, it seemed to Didymus, without memory of its captivity, dreaming of a former freedom, an ancestral summer day with flowers and trees.” When the bird flies to freedom, the soul of Didymus makes good its escape as well.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Evans, Fallon, comp. J. F. Powers. St. Louis: Herder, 1968.

Gussow, Mel. “J. F. Powers, 81, Dies.” The New York Times, June 17, 1999, p. C23.

Hagopian, John V. J. F. Powers. New York: Twayne, 1968.

Long, J. V. “Clerical Character(s).” Commonweal, May 8, 1998, 11-14.

McInerny, Ralph. “The Darkness of J. F. Powers.” Crisis, March, 1989, 44-46.

Merton, Thomas. “Morte D’Urban: Two Celebrations.” Worship 36 (November, 1962): 645-650.

Meyers, Jeffrey. “J. F. Powers: Uncollected Stories, Essays and Interviews, 1943-1979.” Bulletin of Bibliography 44 (March, 1987): 38-39.

Powers, Katherine A. “Reflections of J. F. Powers: Author, Father, Clear-Eyed Observer.” The Boston Globe, July 18, 1999, p. K4.

Preston, Thomas R. “Christian Folly in the Fiction of J. F. Powers.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 16, no. 2 (1974): 91-107.