Saturday, September 17, 2005

What dreams may come

The high ones die, die. They die. You look up and who’s there?
–Easy, easy, Mr Bones. I is on your side.
I smell your grief.
–I sent my grief away. I cannot care
forever. With them all again & again I died
and cried, and I have to live.

–Now there you exaggerate, Sah. We hafta die.
That is our ’pointed task. Love & die.
–Yes; that makes sense.
But what makes sense between, then? What if I
roiling & babbling & braining, brood on why and
just sat on the fence?

–I doubts you did or do. De choice is lost.
–It’s fool’s gold. But I go in for that.
The boy & the bear
looked at each other. Man all is tossed
& lost with groin-wounds by the grand bulls, cat.
William Faulkner’s where?

(Frost being still around.)

- John Berryman, Dream Song # 36

Yesterday's post reminded me of an old, old, favourite - John Berryman's Dream Songs. Playful and sublime, witty and profound, Berryman's Dream Songs are, in my opinion, one of the foremost poetic achievements of the last century (ranking up there with such masterpieces as Hughes' Crow or Wallace Steven's Man with a Blue Guitar). Berryman marries street-smart speech patterns ("I'm scared a lonely. // I'm scared a only one thing, which is me / from othering I don't take nothin' see / for any hound dog's sake") to a rhythm that is pure Hopkins, combining it with a density of thought that Donne would have been proud of. These poems are sinewy and complex, and demand to be read again and again till every nuance is grasped, but they possess also an incredible singing quality (it's Dream Songs, remember), that raises them above the merely clever into the breathtakingly true. The dialogue between Henry and Mr. Bones becomes a metaphor for the way the poems engage you ("He stared ruin in the face. Ruin stared back"), demanding satisfaction, forcing you to match your poor wit to theirs, and exulting in their eventual victory over you. Read them. Read them all. This is an idiom, a voice, that you will never find anywhere else.


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Et tu, Falstaff? Such a fine piece of musing, spoilt for me by that single "sinewy".

I could cheerfully shred the next "sinewy" piece I read about. Into small bleeding pieces, then put them in a charcoal burner.


Falstaff said...

JAP: The defense pleads guilty your honour, but begs the court to show leniency in light of the defendant's straitened circumstances and the unseemly haste in which this post was written.