The Strength of Fields

By James L. Dickey 1923–1997

... a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power and a life-enhancing return ...

Van Gennep: Rites de Passage

Moth-force a small town always has,   

          Given the night.

                                           What field-forms can be,
         Outlying the small civic light-decisions over
               A man walking near home?
                                                         Men are not where he is   
      Exactly now, but they are around him    around him like the strength

Of fields.    The solar system floats on
    Above him in town-moths.
                                             Tell me, train-sound,
    With all your long-lost grief,
                                             what I can give.   
    Dear Lord of all the fields
                                             what am I going to do?
                                        Street-lights, blue-force and frail
As the homes of men, tell me how to do it    how
    To withdraw    how to penetrate and find the source   
      Of the power you always had
                                             light as a moth, and rising
       With the level and moonlit expansion
    Of the fields around, and the sleep of hoping men.

       You?    I?    What difference is there?    We can all be saved

       By a secret blooming. Now as I walk
The night    and you walk with me    we know simplicity   
   Is close to the source that sleeping men
       Search for in their home-deep beds.
       We know that the sun is away    we know that the sun can be conquered   
   By moths, in blue home-town air.
          The stars splinter, pointed and wild. The dead lie under
The pastures.    They look on and help.    Tell me, freight-train,
                            When there is no one else
   To hear. Tell me in a voice the sea
         Would have, if it had not a better one: as it lifts,
          Hundreds of miles away, its fumbling, deep-structured roar
               Like the profound, unstoppable craving
            Of nations for their wish.
                                                      Hunger, time and the moon:

         The moon lying on the brain
                                                    as on the excited sea    as on
          The strength of fields. Lord, let me shake   
         With purpose.    Wild hope can always spring   
         From tended strength.    Everything is in that.
            That and nothing but kindness.    More kindness, dear Lord
Of the renewing green.    That is where it all has to start:
         With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less
             Than save every sleeping one
             And night-walking one

         Of us.
                   My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.

James Dickey, “The Strength of Fields” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press, www.wesleyan.edu/wespress.

Source: James Dickey: The Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet James L. Dickey 1923–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Religion

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 James L. Dickey

Biography

Widely regarded as one of the major mid-century American poets, James Dickey is known for his sweeping historical vision and eccentric poetic style. Joyce Carol Oates described Dickey’s unique perspective as a desire “to take on ‘his’ own personal history as an analogue to or a microscopic exploration of twentieth-century American history.” His expansionist aesthetic is evident in his work’s range and variety of voices, which . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.