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).

Poems By John Berryman


The Curse (2 Comments »)
The Traveller (No Comments »)

77 Dream Songs

1. Dream Song 1: Huffy Henry hid the day (No Comments »)
2. Dream Song 2: Big Buttons, Cornets: the advance (No Comments »)
3. Dream Song 3: A Stimulant for an Old Beast (3 Comments »)
4. Dream Song 4: Filling her compact & delicious body (1 Comment »)
5. Dream Song 5: Henry sats in de bar & was odd (No Comments »)
6. Dream Song 6: A Capital at Wells (No Comments »)
7. Dream Song 7: ‘The Prisoner of Shark Island’ with Paul Muni (No Comments »)
8. Dream Song 8: The weather was fine. They took away his teeth (No Comments »)
9. Dream Song 9: Deprived of his enemy, shrugged to a standstill (No Comments »)
10. Dream Song 10: There were strange gatherings. A vote would come (No Comments »)
11. Dream Song 11: His mother goes. The mother comes & goes. (No Comments »)
12. Dream Song 12: Sabbath (No Comments »)
13. Dream Song 13: God bless Henry (No Comments »)
14. Dream Song 14: Life, friends, is boring (No Comments »)
15. Dream Song 15: Let us suppose, valleys & such ago (No Comments »)
16. Dream Song 16: Henry’s pelt was put on sundry walls (No Comments »)
17. Dream Song 17: Muttered Henry:—Lord of matter, thus (No Comments »)
18. Dream Song 18: A Strut for Roethke (No Comments »)
19. Dream Song 19: Here, whence (No Comments »)
20. Dream Song 20: The Secret of the Wisdom (No Comments »)
21. Dream Song 21: Some good people, daring & subtle voices (No Comments »)
22. Dream Song 22: Of 1826 (No Comments »)
23. Dream Song 23: The Lay of Ike (No Comments »)
24. Dream Song 24: Oh servant Henry lectured till (1 Comment »)
25. Dream Song 25: Henry, edged, decidedly, made up stories (No Comments »)
26. Dream Song 26: The glories of the world struck me (No Comments »)
27. Dream Song 27: The greens of the Ganges delta foliate (No Comments »)
28. Dream Song 28: Snow Line (No Comments »)
29. Dream Song 29: There sat down, once, a thing (No Comments »)
30. Dream Song 30: Collating bones: I would have liked to do (No Comments »)
31. Dream Song 31: Henry Hankovitch, con guítar (No Comments »)
32. Dream Song 32: And where, friend Quo, lay you hiding (No Comments »)
33. Dream Song 33: An apple arc’d toward Kleitos; whose great King (No Comments »)
34. Dream Song 34: My mother has your shotgun. One man, wide (No Comments »)
35. Dream Song 35: MLA (No Comments »)
36. Dream Song 36: The high ones die, die. They die (No Comments »)
37. Dream Song 37: Three around the Old Gentleman (No Comments »)
38. Dream Song 38: The Russian grin bellows his condolence (No Comments »)
39. Dream Song 39: Goodbye, sir, & fare well. You’re in the clear (No Comments »)
40. Dream Song 40: I’m scared a lonely. Never see my son (No Comments »)
41. Dream Song 41: If we sang in the wood (and Death is a German expert) (No Comments »)
42. Dream Song 42: O journeyer, deaf in the mould, insane (No Comments »)
43. Dream Song 43: ‘Oyez, oyez!’ The Man Who Did Not Deliver (No Comments »)
44. Dream Song 44: Tell it to the forest fire, tell it to the moon (No Comments »)
45. Dream Song 45: He stared at ruin. Ruin stared straight back (No Comments »)
46. Dream Song 46: I am, outside. Incredible (No Comments »)
47. Dream Song 47: April Fool’s Day, or, St Mary of Egypt (No Comments »)
48. Dream Song 48: He yelled at me in Greek (No Comments »)
49. Dream Song 49: Blind (No Comments »)
50. Dream Song 50: In a motion of night they massed nearer my post (No Comments »)
51. Dream Song 51: Our wounds to time, from all the other times (No Comments »)
52. Dream Song 52: Silent Song (No Comments »)
53. Dream Song 53: He lay in the middle of the world, and twicht (No Comments »)
54. Dream Song 54: ‘NO VISITORS’ I thumb the roller to (No Comments »)
55. Dream Song 55: Peter’s not friendly. He gives me sideways looks (No Comments »)
56. Dream Song 56: Hell is empty. O that has come to pass (No Comments »)
57. Dream Song 57: In a state of chortle sin–once he reflected (No Comments »)
58. Dream Song 58: Industrious, affable, having brain on fire (No Comments »)
59. Dream Song 59: Henry’s Meditation in the Kremlin (No Comments »)
60. Dream Song 60: Afters eight years, be less dan eight percent (No Comments »)
61. Dream Song 61: Full moon. Our Narragansett gales subside (No Comments »)
62. Dream Song 62: That dark brown rabbit, lightness in his ears (No Comments »)
63. Dream Song 63: Bats have no bankers and they do not drink (No Comments »)
64. Dream Song 64: Supreme my holdings, greater yet my need (No Comments »)
65. Dream Song 65: A freaking ankle crabbed his blissful trips (No Comments »)
66. Dream Song 66: ‘All virtues enter into this world:’) (No Comments »)
67. Dream Song 67: I don’t operate often. When I do (No Comments »)
68. Dream Song 68: I heard, could be, a Hey there from the wing (No Comments »)
69. Dream Song 69: Love her he doesn’t but the thought he puts (No Comments »)
70. Dream Song 70: Disengaged, bloody, Henry rose from the shell (No Comments »)
71. Dream Song 71: Spellbound held subtle Henry all his four (No Comments »)
72. Dream Song 72: The Elder Presences (No Comments »)
73. Dream Song 73: Karensui, Ryoan-ji (1 Comment »)
74. Dream Song 74: Henry hates the world. What the world to Henry (No Comments »)
75. Dream Song 75: Turning it over, considering (No Comments »)
76. Dream Song 76: Henry’s Confession (No Comments »)
77. Dream Song 77: Seedy Henry rose up shy (No Comments »)

Collected Poems 1937-1971

Sonnet 117 – All we were going strong (No Comments »)
The Ball Poem (11 Comments »)

His Toy, His Dream, His Rest

78. Dream Song 78: Op. posth. no. 1 (No Comments »)
79. Dream Song 79: Op. posth. no. 2 (No Comments »)
80. Dream Song 80: Op. posth. no. 3 (No Comments »)
81. Dream Song 81: Op. posth. no. 4 (No Comments »)
82. Dream Song 82: Op. posth. no. 5 (No Comments »)
83. Dream Song 83: Op. posth. no. 6 (No Comments »)
84. Dream Song 84: Op. posth. no. 7 (No Comments »)
85. Dream Song 85: Op. posth. no. 8 (No Comments »)
86. Dream Song 86: Op. posth. no. 9 (No Comments »)
87. Dream Song 87: Op. posth. no. 10 (No Comments »)
88. Dream Song 88: Op. posth. no. 11 (No Comments »)
89. Dream Song 89: Op. posth. no. 12 (No Comments »)
90. Dream Song 90: Op. posth. no. 13 (No Comments »)
91. Dream Song 91: Op. posth. no. 14 (No Comments »)
92. Dream Song 92: Room 231: the fourth week (No Comments »)
93. Dream Song 93: General Fatigue stalked in, & a Major-General (No Comments »)
94. Dream Song 94: Ill lay he long, upon this last return (No Comments »)
95. Dream Song 95: The surly cop looked out at me in sleep (No Comments »)
96. Dream Song 96: Under the table, no. That last was stunning (No Comments »)
97. Dream Song 97: Henry of Donnybrook bred like a pig (No Comments »)
98. Dream Song 98: I met a junior–not so junior–and (No Comments »)
99. Dream Song 99: Temples (No Comments »)
100. Dream Song 100: How this woman came by the courage (No Comments »)
101. Dream Song 101: A shallow lake, with many waterbirds (No Comments »)
102. Dream Song 102: The sunburnt terraces which swans make home (No Comments »)
103. Dream Song 103: I consider a song will be as humming-bird (No Comments »)
104. Dream Song 104: Welcome, grinned Henry, welcome, fifty-one! (No Comments »)
105. Dream Song 105: As a kid I believed in democracy: I (No Comments »)
106. Dream Song 106: 28 July (No Comments »)
107. Dream Song 107: Three ‘coons come at his garbage. He be cross (No Comments »)
108. Dream Song 108: Sixteen below. Our care like stranded hulls (No Comments »)
109. Dream Song 109: She mentioned ‘worthless’ & he took it in (No Comments »)
110. Dream Song 110: It was the blue & plain ones. I forget all that (No Comments »)
111. Dream Song 111: I miss him. When I get back to camp (No Comments »)
112. Dream Song 112: My framework is broken, I am coming to an end (No Comments »)
113. Dream Song 113: or Amy Vladeck or Riva Freifeld (No Comments »)
114. Dream Song 114: Henry in trouble whirped out lonely whines (No Comments »)
115. Dream Song 115: Her properties, like her of course & frisky & new (No Comments »)
116. Dream Song 116: Through the forest, followed, Henry made his silky way (No Comments »)
117. Dream Song 117: Disturbed, when Henry’s love returned with a hubby (No Comments »)
118. Dream Song 118: He wondered: Do I love? all this applause (No Comments »)
119. Dream Song 119: Fresh-shaven, past months & a picture in New York (No Comments »)
120. Dream Song 120: Foes I sniff, when I have less to shout (No Comments »)
121. Dream Song 121: Grief is fatiguing. He is out of it (No Comments »)
122. Dream Song 122: He published his girl’s bottom in staid pages (No Comments »)
123. Dream Song 123: Daples my floor the eastern sun, my house faces north (No Comments »)
124. Dream Song 124: Behold I bring you tidings of great joy (No Comments »)
125. Dream Song 125: Bards freezing, naked, up to the neck in water (No Comments »)
126. Dream Song 126: A Thurn (No Comments »)
127. Dream Song 127: Again, his friend’s death made the man sit still (No Comments »)
128. Dream Song 128: A hemorrhage of his left ear of Good Friday (No Comments »)
129. Dream Song 129: Thin as a sheet his mother came to him (No Comments »)
130. Dream Song 130: When I saw my friend covered with blood, I thought (No Comments »)
131. Dream Song 131: Come touch me baby in his waking dream (No Comments »)
132. Dream Song 132: A Small Dream (No Comments »)
133. Dream Song 133: As he grew famous—ah, but what is fame? (No Comments »)
134. Dream Song 134: Sick at 6 & sick again at 9 (No Comments »)
135. Dream Song 135: I heard said ‘Cats that walk by their wild lone’ (No Comments »)
136. Dream Song 136: While his wife earned the living, Rabbi Henry (No Comments »)
171. Dream Song 171: Go, ill-sped book, and whisper to her or (No Comments »)
172. Dream Song 172: Your face broods (2 Comments »)
176. Dream Song 176: All that hair flashing over (No Comments »)
224. Dream Song 224: Lonely in his great age (No Comments »)
265. Dream Song 265: I don’t know one damned butterfly from another (No Comments »)
324. Dream Song 324: An Elegy for W.C.W., the lovely man (No Comments »)

Sonnets To Chris

Sonnet 104 – A spot of poontang on a five-foot piece (No Comments »)
Sonnet 115 – All we were going strong last night this time (No Comments »)
Sonnet 96 (No Comments »)

The Dispossessed

Winter Landscape (No Comments »)
Analysis, meaning and summary of John Berryman's poem Winter Landscape

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