By John Berryman
A wild, masterful Pulitzer Prize'winning cycle of poems that part a century later nonetheless shocks and astounds
John Berryman was once rarely unknown whilst he released 77 Dream Songs, however the quantity was once, however, a surprise and a revelation. A 'spooky' assortment within the phrases of Robert Lowell--"a maddening paintings of genius."
As Henri Cole notes in his based, perceptive creation, Berryman had chanced on "a looser kind that combined low and high dictions with a wierd syntax." Berryman had additionally came across his so much enduring adjust ego, a paranoid, passionate, depressed, under the influence of alcohol, irrepressible antihero named Henry or, occasionally, Mr. Bones: "We contact at definite points," Berryman claimed, of Henry, "But i'm an exact human being.''
Henry will not be actual, yet he comes alive at the web page. And whereas the main well-known of the Dream Songs starts off, “Life, pals, is boring,” those poems by no means are. Henry lusts: seeing a lady “Filling her compact & scrumptious physique / with poultry páprika” he can slightly restrain himself: “only the actual fact of her husband & 4 other folks / saved me from springing on her.” Henry despairs: “All the area like a woolen lover / as soon as did appear on Henry’s aspect. / Then got here a departure.” Henry, petrified of his personal violent urges, consoles himself: “Nobody is ever missing.”
77 Dream Songs received the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, yet Berryman’s formal and emotional innovations—he cracks the language open, creates a brand new idiom within which to specific everlasting feelings—remain as alive and instant at the present time as ever.
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Additional info for 77 Dream Songs
I read Lord Weary’s Castle quite differently, however. Contrary to common belief, its initiating dilemma is utterly and overtly autobiographical. The problems it is trying to solve through a series of voice exercises are precisely the problem of the individual poet acquiring and asserting an identity in a world that all too easily invites identity to be swallowed up in myth on the one hand or unredemptive sin on the other. The autobiographical self is the raw fodder of destruction, the carrion on which the entire world preys in Lord Weary’s Castle, and only an autobiographical voice that is at once ingeniously selfdefended and marvelously self-revealing can find anything like a stable subject position.
The more brilliantly he speaks, the less he emerges as a stable subject. Lord Weary’s Castle does not itself reflect the kind of autobiographical instability of bi-polarity that would begin to plague Lowell shortly after its publication, but it does manage to accomplish the one thing that is most threatening to the stable subject position: it lies about the function of its voice. For it wants us to believe that the function of this voice is to restore the power of prophe- 22 POETS’ FIRST AND LAST BOOKS IN DIALOGUE cy in a dark and possibly doomed time.
The speaker of the first text is a voice “not at home,”5 as Elizabeth Bishop has said in a different context6; the speaker of the final text is, though periodically tormented, at rest in a textual home of his making. And finally, the speaker of the first text has, insistently behind it, the voice of a wounded child in need of absolution. The speaker of the final text is fully adult, and capable of offering absolution. It is intriguing, given the overall thrust of Day by Day, that it begins with what is arguably a mythic poem, or at least a poem indebted to myth—Odysseus and Circe in conversation, with a shift to Odysseus and Penelope in the latter part of the poem.
77 Dream Songs by John Berryman