Read an Excerpt
By John Berryman
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1972 Estate of John Berryman
All rights reserved.
(a layman's winter mockup, wherein moreover
the Offices are not within one day said
but thro' their hours at intervals
over many weeks — such being the World)
Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick,
and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into
the fire, and oft into the water.
And he did evil, because he prepared not
his heart to seek the Lord.
Let us rejoice on our cots, for His nocturnal miracles
antique outside the Local Group & within it
& within our hearts in it, and for quotidian miracles
parsecs-off yielding to the Hale reflector.
Oh He is potent in the corners. Men
with Him are potent: quasars we intuit,
and sequent to sufficient discipline
we perceive this glow keeping His winter out.
My marvellous black new brim-rolled felt is both stuffy & raffish.
I hit my summit with it, in firelight.
Maybe I only got a Yuletide tie
(increasing sixty) & some writing-paper
but ha (haha) I've bought myself a hat!
Plus-strokes from position zero! Its feathers sprout.
Thank you, Your Benevolence!
permissive, smiling on our silliness You forged.
Thou hard. I will be blunt: Like widening
blossoms again glad toward Your soothe of sun
& solar drawing forth, I find meself
little this bitter morning, Lord, tonight.
Less were you tranquil to me in my dark
just now than tyrannous. O some bore down
sore with enticements — One abandoned me —
half I swelled up toward — till I crash awake.
However, lo, across what wilderness
in vincible ignorance past forty years
lost to (as now I see) Your sorrowing
I strayed abhorrent, blazing with my Self.
I thought I was in private with the Devil
hounding me upon Daddy's cowardice
(trustless in stir the freeze: 'Do your own time').
Intertangled all — choking, groping bodies.
'Behold, thou art taken in thy mischief,
because thou art a bloody man' with horror
loud down from Heaven did I not then hear,
but sudden' was received, — appointed even
poor scotographer, far here from Court,
humming over goodnatured Handel's Te Deum.
I waxed, upon surrender, strenuous
ah almost able service to devise.
I am like your sun, Dear, in a state of shear —
parts of my surface are continually slipping past others,
not You, not You. O I may, even, wave
in crisis like a skew Wolf-Rayet star.
Seas and hills, the high lakes, Superior,
accomplish your blue or emerald donations —
manifest too your soft forbearance, hard
& flint for fierce man hardly to take in.
I take that in. Yes. Just now. I read that.
Hop foot to foot, hurl the white pillows about,
jubilant brothers: He is our overlord,
holding up yet with crimson flags the Sun
whom He'll embark soon mounting fluent day!
Occludes wild dawn. Up thro' green ragged clouds
one sun is tearing, beset alders sway
weary under swollen sudden drops
and February winds shudder our doors,
Lord, as thou knowest. What fits me today
which work I can? I've to poor minimum
pared my commitments; still I'm sure to err
grievous & frequent before Evensong
and both I long toward & abhor that coming.
Yet if You and I make a majority
(as old Claudel encouraged) what sharp law
can pass this morning? — upon which, I take heart.
Also: 'The specific gravity of iron
is one and one-half times the size of Switzerland.'
Zany enlivens. People, pipe with pipes:
the least of us is back on contract, even
unto myself succeeding in sunrise
all over again!
All customary blessings,
anathemas of the date (post-Lupercal,
and sure The Baby was my valentine),
I'm not Your beaver, here disabled, still
it is an honour, where some have achieved,
to limp behind along, humming, & keen
again upon what blue trumps, hazy, vainless glory.
In Alexandria, O Saint Julian
gouty, chair-borne, displayed then on a camel
thorough the insufferable city, and burned.
In other places, many other holy
bishops, confessors, and martyrs. Thanks be to God.
Bitter upon conviction
(even of the seven women jurors
several wept) I will not kneel just now,
Father. I know I must
but being black & galled for these young men,
sick with their savage Judge
('we felt we had no alternative,
since all their evidence was ordered stricken') —
Conducting his own defence: 'men do pass laws
that usurp God's power ...
I hope you'll try in your own way to speak peace.
God guide you.' Grim the prosecutor:
'He's trying to weasel his way out of it.'
Draft records here would have gone up in fire.
Peasant ladies & poupies there went up go up in fire.
Who sat thro' all three trials tells me the juror in blue
looked inconsolably sad, and hid her eyes,
when one propped up on his table a little hand-lettered sign
WE LOVE YOU.
The judge is called P N.
This is of record. Where slept then Your lightning?
Loafed Your torque.
Well. Help us all! Yes — yes — I kneel.
OH half as fearful for the yawning day
where full the Enemy's paratus and
I clearly may
wholly from prime time fail, as yet from yesterday
with good heart grateful having gone no more
(under what gentle tempting You knew I bore)
than what occurred astray,
I almost at a loss now genuflect and pray:
Twice, thrice each day five weeks at 'as we forgive
those who trespass against us' I have thought
ah his envenomed & most insolent missive
and I have done it! — and I damn him still
odd times & unawares catch myself at it:
I'm not a good man, I won't ever be,
there's no health in here. You expect too much.
This pseudo-monk is all but at despair.
My blustering & whining & ill will
versus His will — Forgive my insolence,
since when I was a fervent child to You
and Father Boniface each 5 a.m.
But this world that was not. Lavender & oval,
lilac, dissolve into one's saying hurriedly
'In sex my husband is brutal, beating, dirty, and drunk.'
Has this become Thy will, Thou Reconciler?
High noon has me pitchblack, so in hope out,
slipping thro' stasis, my heart skeps a beat
reflecting on the subtler menace of decline.
Who mentioned in his middle age 'Great Death
wars in us living which will have us all'
caused choreographers to tinker maps
pointing a new domestic capital
and put before Self-Preservation '1)'.
We do not know, deep now the dire age on,
if it's so, or mere a nightmare of one dark one,
Mani's by no means ultimate disciple.
I wish You would clear this up. Moreover, I know
it may extend millennia, or ever, till
you tell somebody to. Meantime: Okay.
Now hear this programme for my remnant of today.
Corpuscle-Donor, to the dizzy tune
of half a hundred thousand while I blink
losing that horrid same
scarlet amount and reel intact ahead:
so of rare Heart repair my fracturing heart
obedient to disobedience
minutely, wholesale, that come midnight neither
my mortal sin nor thought upon it lose me.
Problem. I cannot come among Your saints,
it's not in me — 'Velle' eh? — I will, and fail.
But I would rather not be lost from You —
if I could hear of a middle ground, I'd opt:
a decent if minute salvation, sort of, on some fringe.
I am afraid, afraid. Brothers, who if
you are afraid are my brothers — veterans of fear —
pray with me now in the hour of our living.
It's Eleseus' grave makes the demons tremble,
I forget under what judge he conquered the world,
we're not alone here. Hearing Mark viii, though,
I'm sure to be ashamed of by. I am ashamed.
Riotous doubt assailed me on the stair,
I paused numb. Not much troubled with doubt,
not used to it. In a twinkling can man be lost?
Deep then in thought, and thought brought no relief.
But praying after, and somewhat after prayer
on no occasion fear had gone away!
I was alone with You again: 'the iron did swim'.
It has been proved to me again & again
He does not want me to be lost. Who does? The other.
But 'a man's shaliach is as it were himself':
I am Your person.
I have done this & that which I should do,
and given, and attended, and been still,
but why I do so I cannot be sure,
I am suspicious of myself. Help me!
I am olding & ignorant, and the work is great,
daylight is long, will ever I be done,
for the work is not for man, but the Lord God.
Now I have prepared with all my might for it
and mine O shrinks a micro-micro-minor
post-ministry, and of Thine own to Thee I have given,
and there is none abiding but woe or Heaven,
teste the pundits. Me I'm grounded for peace.
Flimsy between cloth, what may I attain
who slither in my garments? there's not enough of me,
Master, for virtue. I'm loose, at a loss.
Lo, where in this whirlpool sheltered in bone,
only less whirlpool bone, envisaging,
a sixtieth of an ounce to every pint,
sugar to blood, or coma or convulsion,
I hit a hundred and twenty notes a second
as many as I may to the glory of confronting —
unstable man, man torn by blast & gale —
Your figure, adamantly frontal.
Vanity! hog-vanity, ape-lust
slimed half my blue day, interspersed
solely almost with conversation feared,
difficult, dear, leaned forward toward & savoured,
survivaling between. I have not done well.
Contempt — if even the man be judged sincere —
verging on horror, top a proper portion,
of the poor man in paracme, greeding still.
That's nothing, nothing! For his great commands
have reached me here — to love my enemy
as I love me — which is quite out of the question!
and worse still, to love You with my whole mind —
insufferable & creative addition to Deuteronomy 6 —
Frantic I cast about abroad
for avenues of out: Who really this this?
Can all be lost, then? (But some do these things ...
I flinch from some horrible saints half the happy mornings —
so that's blocked off.) Maybe it's not God's voice
only Christ's only. (But our Lord is our Lord.
No vent there.) If more's demanded of man than can
man summon, You're unjust. Suppose not. See Jewish history,
tormented & redeemed, millennia later
in Freud & Einstein forcing us sorry & free,
Jerusalem Israeli! flames Anne Frank
a beacon to the Gentiles weltering.
With so great power bitter, so marvellous mild even mercy?
It's not conformable. It must be so,
but I am lost in it, dire Friend. Only I remember
of Solomon's cherubim 'their faces were inward'.
And thro' that veil of blue, & crimson, & linen,
& blue, You brood across forgiveness and
the house fills with a cloud, so that the priests
cannot stand to minister by reason of the cloud.
Excerpted from Delusions, Etc. by John Berryman. Copyright © 1972 Estate of John Berryman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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