Monday, April 05, 2010

Edward Byrne on "Sleeping Out at Easter"

When James Dickey introduced his first volume of poetry, Into the Stone (1960), he opened the collection with “Sleeping Out at Easter,” a poem he hoped would set a tone for those to follow. Dickey reported in his book, Self-Interviews (1970): “While I was writing Into the Stone, I was very much interested in experimenting with verse forms. I’ve always been a great admirer of Hardy and tried to take a lesson from him in inventing.” In “Sleeping Out at Easter,” Dickey tested different approaches to the poem and arrived at a discovery of form complementing content: “Gradually, over a period of several weeks, I worked on it, italicized the refrain, tried a few other things, and it came out the way it is. It seemed to me to be quite a lucid poem—at least more lucid than what I had written up to that time—and at the same time mysterious. On the one hand, the story seems very clear. It’s just about a man sleeping in back of his house and becoming another person on Easter through the twin influences of the Easter ritual and of nature itself. His rebirth is symbolized by nothing more or less than waking up in a strange place which is near a familiar place.”

Drafts of the poem reveal the method by which Dickey established the persona, point of view, and process of discovery about details in the poem. For instance, the earliest version carries a different title, “Sleeping Out in June,” which probably reflects the actual timing of the event initiating his writing of the piece. However, after including language indicating a spring incident, Dickey changed the title to “Sleeping Out in April.” But by the final drafts, where Dickey had presented particulars suggesting religious allusions and symbolism, the title became “Sleeping Out at Easter.” In his biography of the poet, James Dickey: The World as a Lie (2000), Henry Hart comments: “The poem that begins Into the Stone, ‘Sleeping Out at Easter,’ typifies Dickey’s ritual and mythic approach to the world. Significantly, the narrator does not go to church on Easter Sunday to pay homage to the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Like Wallace Stevens’s persona in ‘Sunday Morning,’ he conducts his own service on his own turf and in his own way. Having camped out in an army blanket, he groggily wakes on Easter morning believing that he is ritually reenacting Christ’s resurrection and, in turn, all renewals of life from death.”...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:59 AM

    thank you for the site.

    i'm studying the poetry of James Dickey.

    I wonder if you could help me find about all previous studies on that. I will write a thesis on his poetry so i have to know what was written before so i do not repeat it.
    Thanks alot.