Friday, November 8, 2013

I Wish I'd Written This

The Hospital Window
By James L. Dickey (1923-1997)

I have just come down from my father.
Higher and higher he lies
Above me in a blue light
Shed by a tinted window.
I drop through six white floors
And then step out onto pavement.

Still feeling my father ascend,
I start to cross the firm street,
My shoulder blades shining with all
The glass the huge building can raise.
Now I must turn round and face it,
And know his one pane from the others.

Each window possesses the sun
As though it burned there on a wick.
I wave, like a man catching fire.
All the deep-dyed windowpanes flash,
And, behind them, all the white rooms
They turn to the color of Heaven.

Ceremoniously, gravely, and weakly,
Dozens of pale hands are waving
Back, from inside their flames.
Yet one pure pane among these
Is the bright, erased blankness of nothing.
I know that my father is there,

In the shape of his death still living.
The traffic increases around me
Like a madness called down on my head.
The horns blast at me like shotguns,
And drivers lean out, driven crazy—
But now my propped-up father

Lifts his arm out of stillness at last.
The light from the window strikes me
And I turn as blue as a soul,
As the moment when I was born.
I am not afraid for my father—
Look! He is grinning; he is not

Afraid for my life, either,
As the wild engines stand at my knees
Shredding their gears and roaring,
And I hold each car in its place
For miles, inciting its horn
To blow down the walls of the world

That the dying may float without fear
In the bold blue gaze of my father.
Slowly I move to the sidewalk
With my pin-tingling hand half dead
At the end of my bloodless arm.
I carry it off in amazement,

High, still higher, still waving,
My recognized face fully mortal,
Yet not; not at all, in the pale,
Drained, otherworldly, stricken,
Created hue of stained glass.
I have just come down from my father.

I have long loved this beautiful poem, because it reminds me of visiting my father in his nursing home when he was dying. The circumstances were different — no high floors to come down from, no waving through windows —but in some ways the feeling was the same, including the unspoken yet mutually conveyed knowledge that we were saying goodbye.

Regarded as a major American poet of his time, Dickey thought there was a poet buried in everyone, but that only some people felt the need to find and release that poetic spirit. After serving in the Air Force and then working in advertising, when he released his own poet he won awards and held prestigious positions — notably Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress (later to become the office of Poet Laureate).

He was known for experimentation with language and syntax, and for contrasting our violent animal instincts with the supposedly safe veneer of civilisation. Some critics regarded him as deliberately eccentric. So it may seem that this poem about his father must be gentler and more accessible than most. But when you look at the others, it's not so. I think that by now poetry has been through so much experimentation, and addressed such confronting subjects, that Dickey's no longer strikes us as extreme. In fact later critics refer to his work as having 'intense clarity' or being 'deceptively simple'. You can judge for yourself by the pieces at or you can find his books at Amazon.

He was also a novelist, and the author of the best-selling Deliverance, which was made into a highly successful movie.

Any poem or photo used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remains the property of the copyright holder (usually its author).


  1. Oh, yes. My grandmother was at a third floor window. She died in 2013. Thank you.

  2. unfortunately when my Father passed we were worlds apart...literally.. he was in Portugal on Vacation and I was working in LA....those last days I never got to see...

  3. That's an incredible poem and brings to mind my own Father. I think many who have lost a loved one can relate to his words in some way. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Oh, that is a wonderful poem, Rosemary!! Thank you for both the poem share and the information about the poet!!

  5. FANTASTIC poem! Wow! The carrying with amazement of his tingling arm - brilliant. Thank you, Rosemary - you find such gems!

    1. This one I found decades ago, when I needed it, soon after my Dad died.

  6. I can especially relate to this right now as my mom is on the 6th floor of the hospital and doesn't have much time.

  7. I can relate to this......thanks for the share......

  8. One more poet to read....feel very connected to what and how he writes...Thank you, Rosemary for sharing.

  9. thanks for sharing this incredible poem.


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