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"The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: Cindylu (---.twmi.rr.com)
Date: February 29, 2004 11:41AM

Can anyone help me analyze "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey. I really do not understand the meaning.

Re: "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.denver-03rh16rt-04rh15rt.co.dial-access.att.net)
Date: February 29, 2004 01:03PM

Care to post it? Googling finds the meaning, but I have not read it.


Re: "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: Cindylu (---.twmi.rr.com)
Date: February 29, 2004 09:17PM

Thanks, that helped!

Re: "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.denver-03rh15rt.co.dial-access.att.net)
Date: March 01, 2004 11:58AM

Were only you so kind ...

Re: "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: Bonny (---.lv.lv.cox.net)
Date: June 09, 2005 02:24AM

Di d you ever find out what the theme of the poem was? i just don' understand it if you culd hepl me I would really appreciate it.
Thank You

Re: "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: Hugh Clary (12.73.175.---)
Date: June 09, 2005 02:33PM

Aha, I see in the interim many have posted it on the web.

In a stable of boats I lie still,
From all sleeping children hidden.
The leap of a fish from its shadow
Makes the whole lake instantly tremble.
With my foot on the water, I feel
The moon outside

Take on the utmost of its power.
I rise and go our through the boats. [out, not our?]
I set my broad sole upon silver,
On the skin of the sky, on the moonlight,
Stepping outward from earth onto water
In quest of the miracle [missing period/full stop?]

This village of children believed
That I could perform as I dived
For one who had sunk from my sight.
I saw his cropped haircut go under.
I leapt, and my steep body flashed
Once, in the sun.

Dark drew all the light from my eyes.
Like a man who explores his death
By the pull of his slow-moving shoulders,
I hung head down in the cold,
Wide-eyed, contained, and alone
Among the weeds,

And my fingertips turned into stone
From clutching immovable blackness.
Time after time I leapt upward
Exploding in breath, and fell back
From the change in the children's faces
At my defeat.

Beneath them I swam to the boathouse
With only my life in my arms
To wait for the lake to shine back
At the risen moon with such power
That my steps on the light of the ripples
Might be sustained.

Beneath me is nothing but brightness
Like the ghost of a snowfield in summer.
As I move toward the center of the lake,
Which is also the center of the moon,
I am thinking of how I may be
The savior of one

Who has already died in my care.
The dark trees fade from around me.
The moon's dust hovers together.
I call softly out, and the child's
Voice answers through blinding water.
Patiently, slowly,

He rises, dilating to break
The surface of stone with his forehead.
He is one I do not remember
Having ever seen in his life.
The ground I stand on is trembling
Upon his smile.

I wash the black mud from my hands.
On a light given off by the grave
I kneel in the quick of the moon
At the heart of a distant forest
And hold in my arms a child
Of water, water, water.

Seems he failed to rescue a drowning child? The theme itself is yet another question. Failure? Tragedy? Regret? Heroism? I could argue any/all of those points and others as well.

Re: "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: August 25, 2005 12:43PM

It seems the lifeguard failed to achieve the miracle that the watching children believed he was capable of [so no period needed at the end of the second stanza], namely to rescue a drowning child. Apparently this occurred on a moonlit night, though there's an inconsistent reference to 'in the sun'.

You can gather this general meaning, but the closer you examine the poem's details, the harder it is - in my opinion - to visualize the scene clearly. There are references that seem inconsistent (e.g. the reference to 'sleeping children' in stanza 1, and the reference to the change in the [apparently watching] 'children's faces' in stanza 5), and there are phrases which grab attention but which obscure rather than clarify (e.g. 'the ghost of a snowfield', 'the dark trees fade from around me' and 'the heart of a distant forest').

I guess that the poet wanted to force the reader to re-read and struggle with the poem. That can lead to a poem being much better appreciated than by casual reading. I just wish I could be confident that the poet here is playing fair. Is he tossing in a few bits that he knows to be meaningless, to create difficulty, or does he have a meaning for them in his own mind?

You can always take comfort in the fact that it's legitimate for different readers to interpret a poem differently (from the poet and from each other). You just have to convince your teacher that you mean what you say about the poem and have some reasons for saying it.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/28/2005 07:06PM by IanB.

Re: "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: caresse (76.166.147.---)
Date: June 08, 2009 09:03PM

i need help i dont understand a darn thing on this poem n whats it about!!!!!

Re: "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey
Posted by: IanAKB (124.168.126.---)
Date: June 22, 2009 08:47PM

Caresse, read the earlier posts in this thread, and then be creative in applying your own interpretation of what it's about.

There's no correct answer. You just have to be able explain your interpretation by referring to parts of the poem.


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