Paper One Sample Essay on the Poem, “Heaven of Animals” by James L. Dickey        

James L. Dickey’s poem, “The Heaven of Animals,” illustrates a kingdom beyond death to which non-human creatures go when they die. He describes the heaven as a more glorified version of the environment any given animal came from in life. Through his admiring and peaceful tone, as well as his emphasis upon interchanging use of caesura and enjambment, Dickey presents the concept of how beautiful the circle of life actually is.


        The speaker of the poem utilizes a persona of admiration encapsulated by a peaceful tone. When describing the predator’s within heaven, the speaker refers to them as “more deadly than they can believe” with “claws and teeth grown perfect.” The speaker admires the physical prowess of the creatures, especially evident through such an absolute word as “perfect.” Further, he describes the creatures as being “in glory” which also coincides with an admiring persona. The peaceful tone eliminates any fear the speaker might demonstrate towards the “deadly” and blood-seeking creatures so that the reader clearly understands that the persona is a positive admiration.  He describes the prey as feeling “no fear” and “walk” so that there is no sense of imagery or sinister undertones as is usually associated with killings of any kind. By appearing admiring, Dickey underlines his positive emotions towards the circle of life and how despite the death that occurs, it is still a peaceful and awe-inspiring.


        Dickey structures the poem using both caesura and enjambment, which in itself echoes the circle of life. Certain sections end abruptly with caesura, representing how certain lives within the animal kingdom are cut short by predators, while other sections extend through to the next stanza and mirror the longer, uninterrupted lives of predators. When discussing the lives of the predators in Heaven, Dickey ascertains that “they stalk more silently…” and this thought does not end until the next stanza when he offers that a single hunt “may take years/In a sovereign floating of joy.” This long, interrupted thought reinforces the idea that predators’ lives extend well beyond that of their prey. Additionally, the introduction of caesura calls the reader’s attention to certain lines within the poem. The very first line of the poem is divided into two separate thoughts through punctuation: “Here they are. The soft eyes open.” By utilizing caesura in that first line, the reader is forced to focus on “the soft eyes open” which again appears later on in the second stanza after “and they rise.” In this manner, the repetition of the phrase is more starkly evident and more easily underlines its importance. By calling the animals’ eyes “soft” in general, it shows an appreciation of all animals and their inherently peaceful nature, which funnels into the overall appreciation for the circle of life. Dickey’s use of caesura and enjambment posture a cyclical nature, which reflects that of the animal kingdom and allows for an appreciation of it to permeate the rest of the poem.


        “The Heaven of Animals” includes the recurring motif of flowers as a partially extended metaphor in which animals are compared to the growing and death of flowers. The instincts of the animals “wholly bloom,” just as the petals of flowers bloom once they have grown. Immediately after that descriptor, the animals are said to “rise” and their “soft eyes open.” Describing the arrival of animals to their Heaven in this manner shows a connection between them and flowers: flowers rise from the soil and their petals open the same way that animals rise from both death and the ground and their eyes open to their new world. To further illustrate this point, Dickey begins the next stanza with “to match them, the landscape flowers…” in order to underline the similarities between animals in Heaven and flowers; he even goes so far as to call them matching. The motif of flowers and subsequent comparison between animals and the flowers invokes the correctness of nature. Although flowers die, others easily rise in its place, growing from the nutrients the past flower provides; in the same way, animals live and die, yet others rise to carry on for the species. Dickey repeats the line, “they rise” both in the beginning and in the end of the poem because it underlines the circle of life: the poem is cyclical just as the lives of all animals are, as well as many elements of nature.

        James L. Dickey shows a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of many elements within nature throughout this poem, “The Heaven of Animals.” His cyclical structure echoes the circle of life within the animal kingdom and reinforces the idea that life comes from death. The speaker uses an admiring persona and a peaceful tone in order to demonstrate how the circle of life is not something to fear, but to embrace. Dickey views the animals “in glory” and shows appreciation and awe for these creatures by eternalizing them through his words and his concept of a “Heaven for Animals.”

The Heaven of Animals


Here they are. The soft eyes open.  

If they have lived in a wood

It is a wood.

If they have lived on plains

It is grass rolling

Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,  

Anyway, beyond their knowing.  

Their instincts wholly bloom  

And they rise.

The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,  

Outdoing, desperately

Outdoing what is required:

The richest wood,

The deepest field.

For some of these,

It could not be the place

It is, without blood.

These hunt, as they have done,

But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.  

They stalk more silently,

And crouch on the limbs of trees,  

And their descent

Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years

In a sovereign floating of joy.  

And those that are hunted  

Know this as their life,

Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge  

Of what is in glory above them,  

And to feel no fear,

But acceptance, compliance.  

Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,

They tremble, they walk  

Under the tree,

They fall, they are torn,  

They rise, they walk again.

Mrs. MacFarland’s Assessment of Paper:

Criterion A: Understanding and Interpretation: There is an excellent understanding of the passage/poem, demonstrated by persuasive interpretation supported by effective references to the passage.  5/5 points

Criterion B: Appreciation of the Writer’s Choices: There is very good analysis and appreciation of the ways in which language, structure, technique, and style shape meaning. Some of the analysis could have been more precise and avoided repetition. 4/5 points

Criterion C: Organization and Development: Ideas are persuasively organized, with excellent structure, coherence and development.5/5 points

Criterion D: Language: Language is clear and carefully chosen, with a good degree of accuracy in grammar, vocabulary, and sentence construction; register and style are consistently appropriate to the commentary.4/ 5 (NOTE: a few areas seemed repetitive, but overall student demonstrated accuracy in grammar and vocabulary.)