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Personal Choice 43

John Berryman

Dream Song 108

Sixteen below. Our cars like stranded hulls

litter all day our little Avenues.

It was 28 below.

No one goes anywhere. Fabulous calls

to duty clank. Icy dungeons, though,

have much to mention to you.

At Harvard & Yale must Pussy-cat be heard

in the dead of winter when we must be sad

and feel by the weather had.

Chrysanthemums crest, far way, in the Emperor's garden

and, whenever we are, we must beg always pardon

Pardon was the word.

Pardon was the only word, in ferocious cold

like Asiatic prisons, where we live

and strive and strive to forgive.

Melted my honey, summers ago. I told

her true & summer things. She leaned an ear

in my direction, here.

John Berryman

John Berryman (1914 - 1972) was an American poet and scholar. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and is considered a key figure in the ‘confessional’ school of poetry. His best-known work is The Dream Songs.

John Berryman's Dream Songs are perhaps the funniest, saddest, most intricately wrought cycle of poems by an American in the twentieth century. They are also, more simply, the vibrantly sketched adventures of a uniquely American antihero named Henry. Henry falls in and out of love, and is in and out of the hospital, he sings of joy and desire, and of beings at odds with the world. He is lustful; he is depressed. And while Henry is breaking down and cracking up and patching himself together again, Berryman is doing the same thing to the English language, crafting electric verses that defy grammar but resound with an intuitive truth. The Dream Songs won Berryman the Pulitzer Prize in 1965. They are witty and wild, an account of madness shot through with searing insight, winking wordplay, and moments of pure, soaring elation.

I first encountered John Berryman’s poetry in my first year at university. He became almost in an instant creative shock and disbelief one of the greatest influences on my own work.


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