m_topn picture

A U G U S T   1 9 6 6

m_rub_po picture

THE SHEEP-CHILD

by James Dickey



Hear James Dickey read this poem (in RealAudio):

RA 28.8, RA 14.4

(For help, see a note about the audio.)

Also by James Dickey:
For the Last Wolverine (1966)
May Day Sermon (1967)


Return to James Dickey in The Atlantic.


Return to:
An Audible Anthology
Poetry Pages

Farm boys wild to couple
With anything         with soft-wooded trees
With mounds of earth         mounds
Of pine straw         will keep themselves off
Animals by legends of their own:
In the hay-tunnel dark
And dung of barns, they will
Say         I have heard tell

That in a museum in Atlanta
Way back in a corner somewhere
There's this thing that's only half
Sheep         like a woolly baby
Pickled in alcohol         because
Those things can't live         his eyes
Are open         but you can't stand to look
I heard from somebody who ...

But this is now almost all
Gone. The boys have taken
Their own true wives in the city,
The sheep are safe in the west hill
Pasture         but we who were born there
Still are not sure. Are we,
Because we remember, remembered
In the terrible dust of museums?

Merely with his eyes, the sheep-child may
Be saying         saying

I am here, in my father's house.
I who am half of your world, came deeply
To my mother in the long grass
Of the west pasture, where she stood like moonlight
Listening for foxes. It was something like love
From another world that seized her
From behind, and she gave, not Iifting her head
Out of dew, without ever looking, her best
Self to that great need. Turned loose, she dipped her face
Farther into the chill of the earth, and in a sound
Of sobbing         of something stumbling
Away, began, as she must do,
To carry me. I woke, dying,

In the summer sun of the hillside, with my eyes
Far more than human. I saw for a blazing moment
The great grassy world from both sides,
Man and beast in the round of their need,
And the hill wind stirred in my wool,
My hoof and my hand clasped each other,
I ate my one meal
Of milk, and died
Staring. From dark grass I came straight

To my father's house, whose dust
Whirls up in the halls for no reason
When no one comes         piling deep in a hellish mild corner,
And, through my immortal waters,
I meet the sun's grains eye
To eye, and they fail at my closet of glass.
Dead, I am most surely living
In the minds of farm boys: I am he who drives
Them like wolves from the hound bitch and calf
And from the chaste ewe in the wind.
They go into woods         into bean fields         they go
Deep into their known right hands. Dreaming of me,
They groan         they wait         they suffer
Themselves, they marry, they raise their kind.



Copyright © 1966 by James Dickey. All rights reserved. By permission of the Literary Estate of James Dickey.

The Atlantic Monthly; August 1966; The Sheep-Child.

Audio from
The Poems of James Dickey (1975-1967) © World of Words, Inc. (Spoken Arts), 95 Valley Road, New Rochelle, N.Y. 10804-3725.

m_nv_cv picture m_nv_un picture m_nv_am picture m_nv_pr picture m_nv_as picture m_nv_se picture