You’ll have to wait another few days for my favorite Auden poem, as I’ve gotten stuck on this Berryman poem instead.
It occurs to me that I use this blog rather as a means of dislodging troublesomely adhesive poems from my mind. It’s similar to the strategy I employ to get songs out of my head: I listen to them compulsively and find that this works better than avoidance for getting them to go away. Maybe it’s just me.
Berryman was one of the confessional poets and led a fairly miserable life. The son of a suicide, he was an alcoholic who eventually shuffled off this mortal coil by hurling himself from a bridge. I suppose that’s one way to accomplish it.
He’s been among my favorite poets since I was a teenager and is one of my few “early favorites” whom I can still read without wincing at my prior tastes (or lack thereof).
This is from The Dream Songs, his great formal sequence. Narrated by a character known only as “Henry,” they are composed in an odd blend of disjointed vernacular and more heightened oratory, but I have never found them difficult.
The end of the poem refers to Romans 5:20 – I’m giving Romans 5:19-21 for context (KJV): “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Dream Song #20
When worst got things, how was you? Steady on?
Wheedling, or shockt her &
you have been bad to your friend,
whom not you writing to. You have not listened.
A pelican of lies
you loosed: where are you?
Down weeks of evenings of longing
by hours, NOW, a stoned bell,
you did somebody: others you hurt short:
anyone ever did you do good?
You licking your own old hurt,
An evil kneel & adore.
This is human. Hurl, God who found
us in this, down
something . . . We hear the more
sin has increast, the more
grace has been caused to abound.
John Berryman on Wikipedia
John Berryman on Poets.org