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Biography of John Berryman

John Berryman

John Berryman (1914 - 1972)

John Berryman, famous for The Dream Songs, is a poet who is very non-traditional in his form. He "takes liberties with syntax and style". The Dream Songs involves a syntax which Berryman partially adopted from Shakespeare who was a big influence in his work. Some other major influences in his life were Robert Lowell, Mark Van Doren, and Yeats. In The Dream Songs, Berryman speaks about his own life through a man named Henry. Henry is a middle-aged American who must deal with paternal suicide, drunkenness, and other problems that Berryman himself experienced. He speaks to an unnamed friend about his issues, and his friend sometimes offers advice. There are almost 400 Dream Songs which were originally published in 77 Dream Songs and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest. When they became a big hit, they were published together in The Dream Songs.

John Allyn Smith was born in MacAlester, Oklahoma on Oct. 25, 1914. He lived on the family farm and later moved to Florida in 1926. That same year his father, depressed over business issues and marriage trouble, committed suicide right outside his son's window. This event wounded Berryman for the rest of his life. When the mother married a man named John Berryman, she changed her son's last name to Berryman. Berryman was not quickly accepted into South Kent School in Florida and was constantly teased. One day, after he had just gotten beat up, he attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself onto train tracks as a train was approaching. Boys from his school quickly pulled him off the tracks, and he escaped unharmed. Even though he was not socially adept, he excelled in academics. He became the first boy in South Kent to graduate one year early. Berryman got his undergraduate degree from Columbia College in 1936 where he published poems in their literary magazine. He then attended Cambridge University on fellowship. He taught at Wayne State University, Harvard, Princeton, University of Iowa, and University of Minnesota. He would remain at Minnesota until his death. Berryman married three times. His wives were Eileen Simpson (1942), Ann Levine (1956), and Kathleen Donohue (1960). Berryman died on Jan 7, 1972 when he threw himself off a bridge in Minneapolis onto some frozen rocks in the Mississippi River leaving behind his wife, two young daughters, and his son.

Berryman often wrote about how he felt about his father's death in his poetry. Berryman was also dependent on alcohol for thirty years and was treated several times, drifting in and out of rehabilitation and psychoanalysis. His addiction was another issue that had a large impact in his poetry. Berryman's distinctive way of telling about his life through poetry was loved by many. He won eleven awards: Oldham Shakespeare Prize, Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial award (1948), American Academy award for poetry (1950), National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1950), the Levinson Prize (1950), the Guggenheim Fellowship (1952, 1966), Academy of American Poets, The Pulitzer Prize(1964), National Endowment for the Arts award (1967), National Book Award (1969), and the Bollingen Award (1969).


Biography by: Michelle Luo - Echoes: great poets inspiring young writers


150 Poems written by John Berryman

The poems are by default sorted according to volume, but you can also choose to sort them alphabetically or by page views.

Volume | Alphabetically | [Page Views] | Comments | First Lines


Page ViewsPoemComments
12795 The Curse Comments and analysis of The Curse by John Berryman 73 Comments
9529 Dream Song 4: Filling her compact & delicious body Comments and analysis of Dream Song 4: Filling her compact & delicious body by John Berryman 4 Comments
8044 Sonnet 117 - All we were going strong Comments and analysis of Sonnet 117 - All we were going strong by John Berryman 2 Comments
7769 Dream Song 3: A Stimulant for an Old Beast Comments and analysis of Dream Song 3: A Stimulant for an Old Beast by John Berryman 4 Comments
7269 Winter Landscape Comments and analysis of Winter Landscape by John Berryman 3 Comments
7166 Dream Song 29: There sat down, once, a thing Comments and analysis of Dream Song 29: There sat down, once, a thing by John Berryman 50 Comments
6056 Dream Song 77: Seedy Henry rose up shy
5791 Dream Song 34: My mother has your shotgun. One man, wide
5555 Dream Song 2: Big Buttons, Cornets: the advance
5512 The Traveller
5463 Dream Song 28: Snow Line
5333 Dream Song 55: Peter's not friendly. He gives me sideways looks Comments and analysis of Dream Song 55: Peter's not friendly. He gives me sideways looks by John Berryman 31 Comments
5215 Dream Song 11: His mother goes. The mother comes & goes.
5028 Dream Song 8: The weather was fine. They took away his teeth Comments and analysis of Dream Song 8: The weather was fine. They took away his teeth by John Berryman 1 Comment
5011 Sonnet 96
4969 Dream Song 16: Henry's pelt was put on sundry walls
4916 Dream Song 40: I'm scared a lonely. Never see my son
4843 Dream Song 39: Goodbye, sir, & fare well. You're in the clear
4676 Dream Song 20: The Secret of the Wisdom
4663 Dream Song 172: Your face broods Comments and analysis of Dream Song 172: Your face broods by John Berryman 2 Comments
4636 Sonnet 104 - A spot of poontang on a five-foot piece
4405 Sonnet 115 - All we were going strong last night this time
4394 Dream Song 36: The high ones die, die. They die
4338 Dream Song 63: Bats have no bankers and they do not drink
4170 Dream Song 324: An Elegy for W.C.W., the lovely man
4081 Dream Song 74: Henry hates the world. What the world to Henry
4021 Dream Song 265: I don't know one damned butterfly from another Comments and analysis of Dream Song 265: I don't know one damned butterfly from another by John Berryman 1 Comment
3919 Dream Song 35: MLA
3857 Dream Song 131: Come touch me baby in his waking dream
3765 Dream Song 112: My framework is broken, I am coming to an end
3715 Dream Song 69: Love her he doesn't but the thought he puts
3563 Dream Song 46: I am, outside. Incredible
3548 Dream Song 67: I don't operate often. When I do Comments and analysis of Dream Song 67: I don't operate often. When I do by John Berryman 2 Comments
3515 Dream Song 26: The glories of the world struck me
3496 Dream Song 7: 'The Prisoner of Shark Island' with Paul Muni
3432 Dream Song 19: Here, whence
3420 Dream Song 53: He lay in the middle of the world, and twicht
3416 Dream Song 38: The Russian grin bellows his condolence
3408 Dream Song 10: There were strange gatherings. A vote would come Comments and analysis of Dream Song 10: There were strange gatherings. A vote would come by John Berryman 1 Comment
3372 Dream Song 6: A Capital at Wells Comments and analysis of Dream Song 6: A Capital at Wells by John Berryman 1 Comment
3365 Dream Song 105: As a kid I believed in democracy: I
3350 Dream Song 18: A Strut for Roethke
3310 Dream Song 128: A hemorrhage of his left ear of Good Friday Comments and analysis of Dream Song 128: A hemorrhage of his left ear of Good Friday by John Berryman 6 Comments
3309 Dream Song 48: He yelled at me in Greek
3292 Dream Song 49: Blind Comments and analysis of Dream Song 49: Blind by John Berryman 3 Comments
3285 Dream Song 23: The Lay of Ike Comments and analysis of Dream Song 23: The Lay of Ike by John Berryman 3 Comments
3240 Dream Song 224: Lonely in his great age
3229 Dream Song 132: A Small Dream
3208 Dream Song 56: Hell is empty. O that has come to pass Comments and analysis of Dream Song 56: Hell is empty. O that has come to pass by John Berryman 1 Comment
3146 Dream Song 52: Silent Song Comments and analysis of Dream Song 52: Silent Song by John Berryman 2 Comments
3106 Dream Song 70: Disengaged, bloody, Henry rose from the shell Comments and analysis of Dream Song 70: Disengaged, bloody, Henry rose from the shell by John Berryman 2 Comments
3093 Dream Song 58: Industrious, affable, having brain on fire
3086 Dream Song 44: Tell it to the forest fire, tell it to the moon Comments and analysis of Dream Song 44: Tell it to the forest fire, tell it to the moon by John Berryman 1 Comment
3077 Dream Song 12: Sabbath
3058 Dream Song 127: Again, his friend's death made the man sit still
3027 Dream Song 21: Some good people, daring & subtle voices Comments and analysis of Dream Song 21: Some good people, daring & subtle voices by John Berryman 1 Comment
2969 Dream Song 100: How this woman came by the courage
2958 Dream Song 43: 'Oyez, oyez!' The Man Who Did Not Deliver Comments and analysis of Dream Song 43: 'Oyez, oyez!' The Man Who Did Not Deliver by John Berryman 1 Comment
2950 Dream Song 118: He wondered: Do I love? all this applause
2923 Dream Song 61: Full moon. Our Narragansett gales subside
2914 Dream Song 50: In a motion of night they massed nearer my post
2904 Dream Song 15: Let us suppose, valleys & such ago
2872 Dream Song 54: 'NO VISITORS' I thumb the roller to
2860 Dream Song 71: Spellbound held subtle Henry all his four
2804 Dream Song 78: Op. posth. no. 1 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 78: Op. posth. no. 1 by John Berryman 1 Comment
2803 Dream Song 89: Op. posth. no. 12
2786 Dream Song 82: Op. posth. no. 5 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 82: Op. posth. no. 5 by John Berryman 2 Comments
2756 Dream Song 101: A shallow lake, with many waterbirds Comments and analysis of Dream Song 101: A shallow lake, with many waterbirds by John Berryman 1 Comment
2753 Dream Song 9: Deprived of his enemy, shrugged to a standstill Comments and analysis of Dream Song 9: Deprived of his enemy, shrugged to a standstill by John Berryman 1 Comment
2740 Dream Song 30: Collating bones: I would have liked to do
2738 Dream Song 27: The greens of the Ganges delta foliate
2721 Dream Song 130: When I saw my friend covered with blood, I thought
2678 Dream Song 17: Muttered Henry:—Lord of matter, thus
2657 Dream Song 104: Welcome, grinned Henry, welcome, fifty-one!
2650 Dream Song 176: All that hair flashing over
2633 Dream Song 41: If we sang in the wood (and Death is a German expert)
2576 Dream Song 62: That dark brown rabbit, lightness in his ears Comments and analysis of Dream Song 62: That dark brown rabbit, lightness in his ears by John Berryman 1 Comment
2566 Dream Song 42: O journeyer, deaf in the mould, insane
2536 Dream Song 64: Supreme my holdings, greater yet my need
2470 Dream Song 99: Temples
2408 Dream Song 60: Afters eight years, be less dan eight percent
2372 Dream Song 59: Henry's Meditation in the Kremlin
2349 Dream Song 65: A freaking ankle crabbed his blissful trips
2346 Dream Song 111: I miss him. When I get back to camp
2327 Dream Song 66: 'All virtues enter into this world:')
2327 Dream Song 87: Op. posth. no. 10 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 87: Op. posth. no. 10 by John Berryman 1 Comment
2279 Dream Song 68: I heard, could be, a Hey there from the wing
2214 Dream Song 32: And where, friend Quo, lay you hiding
2210 Dream Song 98: I met a junior--not so junior--and
2206 Dream Song 103: I consider a song will be as humming-bird Comments and analysis of Dream Song 103: I consider a song will be as humming-bird by John Berryman 2 Comments
2204 Dream Song 134: Sick at 6 & sick again at 9 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 134: Sick at 6 & sick again at 9 by John Berryman 3 Comments
2182 Dream Song 91: Op. posth. no. 14 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 91: Op. posth. no. 14 by John Berryman 4 Comments
2171 Dream Song 33: An apple arc'd toward Kleitos; whose great King Comments and analysis of Dream Song 33: An apple arc'd toward Kleitos; whose great King by John Berryman 2 Comments
2170 Dream Song 106: 28 July Comments and analysis of Dream Song 106: 28 July by John Berryman 2 Comments
2167 Dream Song 90: Op. posth. no. 13
2144 Dream Song 135: I heard said 'Cats that walk by their wild lone'
2141 Dream Song 79: Op. posth. no. 2 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 79: Op. posth. no. 2 by John Berryman 1 Comment
2137 Dream Song 125: Bards freezing, naked, up to the neck in water Comments and analysis of Dream Song 125: Bards freezing, naked, up to the neck in water by John Berryman 2 Comments
2107 Dream Song 124: Behold I bring you tidings of great joy
2088 Dream Song 31: Henry Hankovitch, con guĂ­tar
2058 Dream Song 102: The sunburnt terraces which swans make home Comments and analysis of Dream Song 102: The sunburnt terraces which swans make home by John Berryman 19 Comments
2051 Dream Song 37: Three around the Old Gentleman
2040 Dream Song 72: The Elder Presences
2027 Dream Song 92: Room 231: the fourth week Comments and analysis of Dream Song 92: Room 231: the fourth week by John Berryman 1 Comment
2023 Dream Song 133: As he grew famous—ah, but what is fame? Comments and analysis of Dream Song 133: As he grew famous—ah, but what is fame? by John Berryman 1 Comment
2015 Dream Song 109: She mentioned 'worthless' & he took it in
1979 Dream Song 121: Grief is fatiguing. He is out of it
1914 Dream Song 107: Three 'coons come at his garbage. He be cross
1902 Dream Song 57: In a state of chortle sin--once he reflected
1874 Dream Song 126: A Thurn Comments and analysis of Dream Song 126: A Thurn by John Berryman 3 Comments
1858 Dream Song 97: Henry of Donnybrook bred like a pig Comments and analysis of Dream Song 97: Henry of Donnybrook bred like a pig by John Berryman 1 Comment
1852 Dream Song 119: Fresh-shaven, past months & a picture in New York
1843 Dream Song 114: Henry in trouble whirped out lonely whines
1837 Dream Song 96: Under the table, no. That last was stunning Comments and analysis of Dream Song 96: Under the table, no. That last was stunning by John Berryman 1 Comment
1816 Dream Song 123: Daples my floor the eastern sun, my house faces north Comments and analysis of Dream Song 123: Daples my floor the eastern sun, my house faces north by John Berryman 1 Comment
1810 Dream Song 83: Op. posth. no. 6
1791 Dream Song 115: Her properties, like her of course & frisky & new Comments and analysis of Dream Song 115: Her properties, like her of course & frisky & new by John Berryman 1 Comment
1769 Dream Song 80: Op. posth. no. 3 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 80: Op. posth. no. 3 by John Berryman 1 Comment
1746 Dream Song 95: The surly cop looked out at me in sleep
1733 Dream Song 88: Op. posth. no. 11 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 88: Op. posth. no. 11 by John Berryman 1 Comment
1709 Dream Song 116: Through the forest, followed, Henry made his silky way Comments and analysis of Dream Song 116: Through the forest, followed, Henry     made his silky way by John Berryman 1 Comment
1706 Dream Song 129: Thin as a sheet his mother came to him
1679 Dream Song 94: Ill lay he long, upon this last return
1675 Dream Song 22: Of 1826
1664 Dream Song 85: Op. posth. no. 8 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 85: Op. posth. no. 8 by John Berryman 1 Comment
1654 Dream Song 84: Op. posth. no. 7
1651 The Ball Poem Comments and analysis of The Ball Poem by John Berryman 310 Comments
1651 The Ball Poem
1627 Dream Song 136: While his wife earned the living, Rabbi Henry Comments and analysis of Dream Song 136: While his wife earned the living, Rabbi Henry by John Berryman 2 Comments
1590 Dream Song 81: Op. posth. no. 4 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 81: Op. posth. no. 4 by John Berryman 2 Comments
1523 Dream Song 86: Op. posth. no. 9 Comments and analysis of Dream Song 86: Op. posth. no. 9 by John Berryman 1 Comment
1400 Dream Song 45: He stared at ruin. Ruin stared straight back Comments and analysis of Dream Song 45: He stared at ruin. Ruin stared straight back by John Berryman 49 Comments
990 Dream Song 1: Huffy Henry hid the day
893 Dream Song 5: Henry sats in de bar & was odd Comments and analysis of Dream Song 5: Henry sats in de bar & was odd by John Berryman 2 Comments
781 Dream Song 14: Life, friends, is boring Comments and analysis of Dream Song 14: Life, friends, is boring by John Berryman 1 Comment
463 Dream Song 75: Turning it over, considering
459 Dream Song 25: Henry, edged, decidedly, made up stories Comments and analysis of Dream Song 25: Henry, edged, decidedly, made up stories by John Berryman 1 Comment
374 Dream Song 73: Karensui, Ryoan-ji
369 Dream Song 47: April Fool's Day, or, St Mary of Egypt Comments and analysis of Dream Song 47: April Fool's Day, or, St Mary of Egypt by John Berryman 5 Comments
361 Dream Song 93: General Fatigue stalked in, & a Major-General
350 Dream Song 24: Oh servant Henry lectured till Comments and analysis of Dream Song 24: Oh servant Henry lectured till by John Berryman 17 Comments
277 Dream Song 113: or Amy Vladeck or Riva Freifeld
268 Dream Song 122: He published his girl's bottom in staid pages
247 Dream Song 108: Sixteen below. Our care like stranded hulls
176 Dream Song 76: Henry's Confession Comments and analysis of Dream Song 76: Henry's Confession by John Berryman 1 Comment
97 Dream Song 120: Foes I sniff, when I have less to shout
67 Dream Song 117: Disturbed, when Henry's love returned with a hubby
65 Dream Song 51: Our wounds to time, from all the other times
62 Dream Song 13: God bless Henry
44 Dream Song 171: Go, ill-sped book, and whisper to her or
36 Dream Song 110: It was the blue & plain ones. I forget all that


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