work with such …

work with such misconceptions for whatever hint of insight–the making of a truth–they may contain: that fragment of existence which could not be seen in any other way and may with great good luck, as in the best poetry, be better than the truth” (Night Hurdling xi). I wish to suggest, therefore, that in his early poetic treatment of women, Dickey consciously used mythic archetypes to depict what Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces calls the Queen Goddess of the World. My discussion primarily centers on certain short, overlooked, or unexamined poems, both published and unpublished, in that longer works such as “Falling” and “May Day Sermon” have been numerously examined by critics and that, in any event, these poems also support my contention. In narrowing my topic and making this assertion, I am conscious that Dickey’s image as macho or Byronic, what Calhoun and Hill refer to as his “sexual legendry” and “nearly Rabelaisian experiences” (138, 2), has influenced previous criticism and renders debatable any interpretation of, say, “The Earth Drum” or “A Morning,” two unpublished poems discussed below that are dominated by a distinctly male perspective.1

             In an overlooked essay entitled “Complicity” and published in Night Hurdling (1983), Dickey notes the poet Paul Claudel’s view of Woman as “the promise that cannot be kept,” and be then declares: “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it–the real earth, and not just the enchanted fragment of it that blazes in the longing mind to furnish and down in it–the real earth, and not just the enchanted fragment of it that blazes in the longing mind to furnish


 her setting–she becomes a hidden archetype to the beholder rendered god-like by her presence: his possession and promise, soulless and soulful at the same time, receding, flashing up with a terrible certainty at the most inopportune times that she then makes opportune” (217). Such a view of women as mythic incarnations of the female principle receives earlier attention in Dickey’s discussion of his poem “The Enclosure.” Referring to the nurses the airmen saw in World War II as they were trucked to the awaiting planes, Dickey states: “they were unmistakenly women. They had the inaccessibility I’ve always deemed such an important part of the man-woman relationship: the idealization of woman. You can see this idea in many places, not just in my poems” (Self-Interviews 91). Dickey’s comments suggest that he, and by extension all men, views women as idealized figures whose


About Joyce Morrow Pair

Dr. Joyce Pair is best known and acclaimed professionally for founding the James Dickey Newsletter and for editing the print edition for twenty years. The Newsletter, published since its founding in 1984, is dedicated to the work and biography of James Dickey. After the retirement of the editor at the University of South Carolina who had been appointed by Dr. Pair in 2007, the editorship was passed to Casey Clabough, at Lynchburg College, who changed the format to a general emphasis and changed the name. Consequently, Pair resumed editing the Newsletter in a new, digitized format ( This new digital James Dickey Newsletter continues its concentration on Dickey and his work, resuming the on-going bibliography as well as including relevant Dickey information and new scholarly essays. Through Pair’s guidance and editorial position the Newsletter became the central force in Dickey scholarship, attracting established and aspiring Dickey scholars. New attention was given to addressing the philosophical and ecological themes in Dickey’s work. Pair has herself written and published scholarly articles and has delivered conference papers on the work of Dickey (as well as on other authors). With Pair’s mentorship, many young contributors to James Dickey Newsletter have become established Dickey scholars. Dr. Pair retired from teaching English Literature and Composition at DeKalb College in 1996. Since that time, she has edited many manuscripts/books and articles.
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