Dream Song 3: A Stimulant for an Old Beast

Acacia, burnt myrrh, velvet, pricky stings.
—I’m not so young but not so very old,
said screwed-up lovely 23.
A final sense of being right out in the cold,
(—My psychiatrist can lick your psychiatrist.) Women get under

All these old criminals sooner or later
have had it. I’ve been reading old journals.
Gottwald & Co., out of business now.
Thick chests quit. Double agent, Joe.
She holds her breath like a seal
and is whiter & smoother.

Rilke was a jerk.
I admit his griefs & music
& titled spelled all-disappointed ladies.
A threshold worse than the circles
where the vile settle & lurk,
Rilke’s. As I said,—

Analysis, meaning and summary of John Berryman's poem Dream Song 3: A Stimulant for an Old Beast


  1. Cswart says:

    It’s not free association (or at least not anymore than the other Dream Songs are). It is very clearly about infidelities with a younger person (a student, perhaps). Guilt tinged with images of excitement and eroticism.

    Rilke was a jerk in that he was a manipulator, a womanizer, a terrible excuse for a friend who abandoned supportive lovers for benefactors, and an overall smarmy, phony guy who many literary giants of the time absolutely could not stand. (Beautiful poetry, though). See Robert Freedman’s biography Life of A Poet.

  2. Lauren says:

    I don’t enjoy this poem but I will say that it has great meaning.

  3. Christine Strevinsky says:

    Frankly, this poem has me scratching my head. It does lend itself to free association…

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