In the Marble Quarry

By James L. Dickey 1923–1997
Beginning to dangle beneath
The wind that blows from the undermined wood,   
      I feel the great pulley grind,

      The thread I cling to lengthen   
And let me soaring and spinning down into marble,
      Hooked and weightlessly happy

      Where the squared sun shines
Back equally from all four sides, out of stone   
      And years of dazzling labor,

      To land at last among men
Who cut with power saws a Parian whiteness
      And, chewing slow tobacco,

      Their eyebrows like frost,
Shunt house-sized blocks and lash them to cables   
      And send them heavenward

      Into small-town banks,
Into the columns and statues of government buildings,   
      But mostly graves.

      I mount my monument and rise
Slowly and spinningly from the white-gloved men   
      Toward the hewn sky

      Out of the basement of light,
Sadly, lifted through time’s blinding layers   
      On perhaps my tombstone

      In which the original shape
Michelangelo believed was in every rock upon earth   
      Is heavily stirring,

      Surprised to be an angel,
To be waked in North Georgia by the ponderous play   
      Of men with ten-ton blocks

      But no more surprised than I
To feel sadness fall off as though I myself   
      Were rising from stone

      Held by a thread in midair,
Badly cut, local-looking, and totally uninspired,   
      Not a masterwork

      Or even worth seeing at all
But the spirit of this place just the same,   
      Felt here as joy.

James Dickey, “In the Marble Quarry” 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 Painting & Sculpture, Death, Living, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Painting & Sculpture, Death, Living, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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