The thesis explores the "presentational immediacy" of the poetry of James Dickey. "Presentational immediacy" is a phrase used by the poet, himself, to describe his attempt to provide a verbal equivalent of an intense experience. He also defines the phrase in stating that his aim is to effect spontaneity and reader involvement in the experience of the poems. This is a relatively difficult objective to accomplish. However, as is shown in the study of the poems in Chapter V, Dickey's handling of the general diction and imagery of the poems does fulfill his objective of presenting an experience in a vivid, forceful manner.

The desire for a compulsive presentation seems related to the fact that many poems present situations which move in the direction of mystical experience. Chapter IV discusses the elements of mystical experience and the difficulty faced by the mystic in communicating his experience. This difficulty is essentially the same as that faced by Dickey in his aim for presentational immediacy. Frequent in mystical writings are the use of oxymora and paradox and references to light in the description of mystical experience. These features are also found in Dickey's poems which share elements of mysticism--the quasi-mystical poems discussed in Chapter VI. The imagery of the poems is frequently based on a consciousness of light and motion, an element of paradox, and at times, a transferal of the intense attitude of the speaker to an object.

In Chapter V it is shown that these characteristics are also found in the non-mystical poems. The presentational immediacy of these poems involves the same elements as the quasi-mystical poems, for in both there is a vivid re-creation of an intense experience--the experience is made presentationally immediate. Thus the study of the poems in Chapters V and VI demonstrates that Dickey's aim is achieved in his poetry. The thesis concludes that the desire to achieve presentational immediacy serves as a guiding motive in Dickey's choice of words and that an understanding of this principle is fundamental in seeking to understand and to experience the meaning and emotion of the poetry.

During the initial stage of research all materials available in books and periodicals were read in three categories: material written about James Dickey and his poetry; material written by Dickey about the work of other poets; material written by Dickey about himself and about his own poetry. With the exception of one short article at the end of Babel to Byzantium in which Dickey gives an account of his development as a poet, there were no materials available in the last three categories.

In reading and rereading the poems published between 1957 and 1970, I found a body of poetry which is largely spontaneous and forthright in presenting the subject matter. I found, in addition, that the quality which makes Dickey's poetry unique and which repeatedly stimulates comments about his work is the intensity of the experience presented in the poems. It is with the use of imagery that his technique is most evidently his own.

The review of the critical literature on Dickey's poetry did 'not yield any complete treatment on his use of language. Several writers assented that Dickey's technique is valid in that it proves effective in presenting his material. However, the greater portion of the critical comment on Dickey's work is limited to generalizing reviews in periodicals and two books. No writer has undertaken a formal analysis of the poems in order to demonstrate the validity of their assertions. This thesis provides such an analysis of the poetry of James Dickey.

LLU Discipline





Graduate School

First Advisor

Delmer I. Davis

Second Advisor

Richard B. Lewis

Third Advisor

Robert P. Dunn

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Dickey, James--Criticism and interpretation.



Page Count

iii; 70

Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives