John Berryman, poetry, the dream songs, American author, analysys.
A scholar, a professor, a poet and a key figure in the
‘Confessional Poetry’ movement.
Born John Allyn Smith, Jr.
October 25, 1914
McAlester, Oklahoma, USA
Died January 7, 1972 (aged 57)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Alma mater Columbia University
The Dream Songs (1969), Homage to Mistress
National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize for
Poetry, Bollingen Prize
Spouses Eileen Simpson (1942-1956); divorced
Ann Levine (1956-1959); divorced
Kate Donahue (1961-1972)
Berryman suffered a great loss at 12 when his father shot
himself outside the boy’s window. This event haunted him
throughout his life, and recurred as a subject in his poetry.
After his mother remarried, John took his stepfather’s name
and lived in Massachusetts and New York City.
Graduated from Columbia in 1939, then went to Cambridge to
study. The first of three marriages came in 1942, and six years
later he published his first important book of poetry, The
In 1955, after teaching at Harvard and Princeton, Berryman
took a position at the University of Minnesota, where he
remained until his death.
Berryman's great poetic breakthrough occurred after he
published 77 Dream Songs in 1964.
Berryman was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences in 1967, and that same year Life magazine
ran a feature story on him.
In 1968 Berryman published a second volume of Dream Songs,
entitled His Toy, His Dream, His Rest.
The frankness of Berryman’s work influenced his friend Robert
Lowell and other Confessional poets like Anne Sexton. The
poet’s lifelong struggles with alcoholism and depression ended
in 1972, when he jumped off a Minneapolis bridge in the dead
“We must travel in the
direction of our fear.”
“You should always be
trying to write a poem
you are unable to
write, a poem you lack
the technique, the
language, the courage
to achieve. Otherwise
you're merely imitating
that's always easiest.”
The songs portray “Henry,” an anguished
and often-deranged character very much
Three six-line stanzas
Allusions to past and present events
and to literary figures.
Slangy diction, a nervous, fractured
Influenced by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats,
psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. “These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand.
They are only meant to terrify & comfort.”
― John Berryman, The Dream Songs
The Dream Song №4
Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her
or falling at her little feet and crying
'You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry's dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.' I advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni. --Sir Bones:
is stuffed, de world, wif feeding girls.
--Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast . . . The slob beside her feasts . . . What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
--Mr. Bones: there is.
The Dream Song 14
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.