James Dickey

Franklin Library James Dickey books

Deliverance - signed limited edition - 1981


Writer James Dickey

James Dickey, born on February 2, 1923, in Atlanta, Georgia, was an American poet, novelist, and critic best known for his powerful and evocative works that often explored themes of nature, the human experience, and the complexities of modern life. Dickey's early life was marked by a love for literature and a passion for the outdoors. He served as a pilot in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, an experience that would later influence his writing. After the war, he attended Vanderbilt University, where he studied under poet John Crowe Ransom and began honing his craft as a writer. Dickey's poetry gained recognition with the publication of his first collection, Into the Stone and Other Poems (1960). His distinctive style, characterized by vivid imagery, intense language, and a focus on the natural world, set him apart as a major voice in contemporary American poetry. His collection Buckdancer's Choice (1965) won the National Book Award for Poetry.

The Leap

The Leap is a poem written by James Dickey, and it was published in his poetry collection The Whole Motion: Collected Poems, 1949-1992. The poem, like much of Dickey's work, explores themes of nature, human experience, and the primal instincts within us. The Leap is a vivid and intense poem that describes a dramatic encounter between a deer and a hunter. It captures the moment of a deer leaping from a cliff, attempting to escape the pursuing hunter. The poem delves into the instinctual aspects of both the prey and the predator, portraying a visceral and primal struggle for survival. Dickey's language is powerful and evocative, creating a sense of urgency and intensity. The poem is known for its sensory imagery and the way it conveys the raw, elemental nature of the encounter between man and beast. It's a reflection on the brutality of nature, the cycle of life and death, and the instinctive drive for survival. As with much of James Dickey's poetry, The Leap explores the intersection of the natural world and the human experience, delving into the complexities of our primal instincts and the harsh realities of the natural order.

In addition to his poetry, James Dickey achieved widespread acclaim as a novelist. His best-known work, Deliverance (1970), tells the harrowing tale of a canoe trip gone awry in the Georgia wilderness. The novel was later adapted into a successful film directed by John Boorman. Deliverance explored themes of survival, primal instincts, and the clash between civilization and the untamed wilderness. Dickey's literary contributions extended beyond his own writing. He served as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (now the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry) from 1966 to 1968, contributing to the promotion of poetry in the United States. Dickey's career also included teaching positions at various universities, where he shared his knowledge and passion for literature with students.

Despite his successes, James Dickey faced personal challenges, including struggles with alcoholism. His later poetry reflected a deep introspection and a grappling with mortality. His later collections, such as The Eagle's Mile (1990) and The Whole Motion: Collected Poems, 1949-1992 (1992), continued to showcase his powerful and introspective voice. James Dickey passed away on January 19, 1997, at the age of 73. His legacy endures through his contributions to American literature, particularly his impactful poetry and the enduring cultural impact of Deliverance. Dickey's ability to capture the intensity of human experience and his exploration of the natural world solidified his place among the notable literary figures of the 20th century.



The setting is the Georgia wilderness, where the state's most remote white-water river awaits. In the thundering froth of that river, in its echoing stone canyons, four men on a canoe trip discover a freedom and exhilaration beyond compare. And then, in a moment of horror, the adventure turns into a struggle for survival as one man becomes a human hunter who is offered his own harrowing deliverance.

A group of middle-aged friends in search of the wilderness experience that has been missing from their big-city lives go canoeing one weekend. They pack all the usual survival gear plus a banjo and a bow and arrow and head off. Unskilled and naïve, they paddle downstream, enjoying the exercise and the gorgeous scenery. But something is in the air. There are small signs at their canoes hit sudden rapids, the river seems polluted with litter and bird feathers, and during the night their tent is punctured by the talons of a hunting owl. Then, the following day, after mooring their canoes by the woods, they are approached by two sinister men. One is carrying a shotgun and the other a knife...


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