“The Heaven of Animals” by James Dickey is a contemplative poem about what heaven is like for animals. James Dickey uses a variety of different literary techniques and use of idyllic imagery to describe how heaven for each animal matches that animal’s habitat. This is shown in the first stanza ‘if they have lived in a wood, It is a wood’ this shows that the speaker’s idea of an animal’s heaven is its natural habitat, something it will remain in even after death. This portrays a connection between an animal and its home, as it is more than somewhere it stays; it is tied to the animal and has become a part of its being. In the second stanza James Dickey says that even though animals have “no souls” they still pass on to heaven where their instincts are perfect. As the animals can be pardoned for committing human sins such as ‘murder’ as in the animal kingdom this is accepted as primal instinct and natural .This suggests Dickey views animals as superior to humans .It can be seen as animals have a form of innocence and naivety which grants them access and pardon into heaven as they are too basic to commit a form of malicious sin that wouldn’t enable them to go to heaven.
The line “The soft eyes open” is repeated in the second stanza and may refer to seeing with perfect clarity the world around. And as though only when the animals ascend to heaven do they see the world with perfect clarity and a more in depth judgement. The idea of perfection of the animals arises throughout the poem through a use of positive language such as ‘floating and ‘perfection’ this language makes the animals seem more superior to humans. The words floating and perfection create an image of angels floating in the air, looking down at the earth. The third stanza creates a hint of competition as nature is trying to match the perfection and beauty of the animals, “To match them, the landscape flowers, Outdoing, desperately Outdoing what is required”. The idea suggested earlier in the poem is repeated, the idea that animals are superior to other aspects of nature as well as humans, as the plants are ‘desperately’ trying to outdo the animals perfection in life, to reap the same benefits as the animals will. Within in this poem Dickey presents a moral dilemma, which in the heaven of humans would be classed as unacceptable but within the heaven of animals it is a natural acceptable way of life.
Within the fourth stanza Dickey presents the idea that if an animal’s life involves blood than its heaven could not be the place it lives ‘without blood’ .As if in its natural environment an animal is a predator , then its heaven would involve it being a predator and eating other animals such as a bird eating a worm. In the fourth stanza Dickey also expresses that these animals would have heightened abilities so they could ‘stalk more silently’ and thus become more effective than ever. The moral dilemma however within this is that fair to the animal that is not a predator as if it is being preyed upon it cannot also be in heaven. However in the next few stanzas’ Dickey answers this question by stating that the animals which are prey, know “this as their life” and the animals also know the reward of the “glory above them, And feel no fear” .Meaning their life in heaven is at is upon earth they accept that this is the inevitable and feel no fear, allowing this to happen without pain. Dickey also answers this moral dilemma by saying that the prey ‘rise’ and ‘they walk again’ thus being able to fulfil its eternal destiny.