(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The eight-page poem “The Owl King” is arranged in three parts. Part 1, “The Call,” is the father’s hopeful search for his blind son. This one-page section is characteristic of much of Dickey’s poetry in several ways. It is written in eight-line stanzas, for example, with the first line recurring at the end as a refrain in italics. Many of Dickey’s poems, especially the earlier ones, are told in stanzas of five to eight lines, and the refrain is fairly commonly used (examples include “Dover: Believing in Kings,” “The String,” and “On the Hill Below the Lighthouse”). The stanzas are linked by enjambment, although this poem has rather less of that device than usual in Dickey. The unrhymed lines are mostly of eight syllables, with Dickey’s typically heavy anapestic stress heard everywhere. The metrical pattern found most frequently in a Dickey line is an iamb followed by two anapests, and “The Call” offers perfect examples, as in “It whispers like straw in my ear,/ And shakes like a stone under water./ My bones stand on tiptoe inside it. Which part of the sound did I utter?” The alliteration in these lines is not unexpected in a Dickey poem, and the word “stone” is perhaps the commonest word in Dickey’s vocabulary.

The father’s call is answered by the owl king’s song, and the second part of the poem, two pages, is the owl’s story; it is told in one long stanza. The owl king’s vision allows him to see “dark...

(The entire section is 485 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Judith S. Baughman, eds. Crux: The Letters of James Dickey. New York: Knopf, 1999.

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Dickey, James. Classes on Modern Poets and the Art of Poetry. Edited by Donald J. Greiner. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

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Heyen, William. “A Conversation with James Dickey.” Southern Review 9 (1973): 135-156.

Kirschten, Robert. James Dickey and the Gentle Ecstasy of Earth. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

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Lieberman, Laurence. The Achievement of James Dickey: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems with a Critical Introduction. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1968.

Van Ness, Gordon. Outbelieving Existence: The Measured Motion of James Dickey. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1992.