At Darien Bridge

By James L. Dickey 1923–1997
The sea here used to look
As if many convicts had built it,

Standing deep in their ankle chains,   
Ankle-deep in the water, to smite

The land and break it down to salt.   
I was in this bog as a child

When they were all working all day   
To drive the pilings down.

I thought I saw the still sun
Strike the side of a hammer in flight

And from it a sea bird be born   
To take off over the marshes.

As the gray climbs the side of my head   
And cuts my brain off from the world,

I walk and wish mainly for birds,
For the one bird no one has looked for

To spring again from a flash
Of metal, perhaps from the scratched

Wedding band on my ring finger.   
Recalling the chains of their feet,

I stand and look out over grasses
At the bridge they built, long abandoned,

Breaking down into water at last,   
And long, like them, for freedom

Or death, or to believe again
That they worked on the ocean to give it

The unchanging, hopeless look   
Out of which all miracles leap.

James Dickey, “At Darien Bridge” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press,

Source: Helmets (Wesleyan University Press, 1964)

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Poet James L. Dickey 1923–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Marriage & Companionship, Growing Old, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Animals, Living, Nature

Poetic Terms Couplet

 James L. Dickey


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 . . .

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SUBJECT Marriage & Companionship, Growing Old, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Animals, Living, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Couplet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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