Collected Poems 1937-1971

Collected Poems 1937-1971

by John Berryman

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This volume brings together all of Berryman’s poetry, except for his epic The Dream Songs, ranging from his earliest unpublished poem (1934) to those written in the last months of his life (1972). A definitive edition of one of America’s most distinguished poets.

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This volume brings together all of Berryman’s poetry, except for his epic The Dream Songs, ranging from his earliest unpublished poem (1934) to those written in the last months of his life (1972). A definitive edition of one of America’s most distinguished poets.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For readers unattuned to what Thornbury here calls ``Berryman's strange and dissonant music,'' this gathering of verse may unlock the poems' inner recesses. In his extensive introductory essay, the editor, who teaches at St. John's University in Minnesota, explores Berryman's poetry of disrupted syntax, of continual deaths and rebirths, of self-deceptions and ultimate self-understanding. He also provides a biographical context for the sonnets, satires and confessionals, taking into account the poet's peripatetic boyhood, his suppressed rage at his father's suicide, his metamorphoses as Cambridge don, alcoholic philanderer, itinerant professor-poet and suicide at age 57. Berry displayed his febrile inventiveness as early as Sonnets to Chris (1947), a cycle included here that is by turns romantically tender, cynical, manic, elegant and slangy; this edition brings together all of Berryman's published volumes of poetry except for The Dream Songs. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Making careful editorial decisions about Berryman's sometimes confusing manuscripts and corrected page proofs, Thornbury brings together all seven collections of short poems and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. Though one can trace the influences of other poets--Yeats, Auden, Crane--before Berryman's voice emerges, ultimately the subject of his poems is unabashedly the personal. Tortured if brilliant, Berryman draws on his many selves to fashion dialogs between old and new ways of being. Central to the mid-century's intellectual and emotional life, he records the outcome of human experience as the opposite of what we either hope for or expect in shifts of language from dialect to sophisticated rhetoric that underscore the poetry's agony. Not included are Berryman's own published prefaces and notes, copy texts, variants, The Dream Songs , and posthumously published works.-- Rosaly DeMaios Roffman, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania

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John Berryman: Collected Poems, 1937â"1971

By John Berryman, Charles Thornbury

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1989 Kate Donahue Berryman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7958-4


    Winter Landscape

    The three men coming down the winter hill
    In brown, with tall poles and a pack of hounds
    At heel, through the arrangement of the trees,
    Past the five figures at the burning straw,
    Returning cold and silent to their town,

    Returning to the drifted snow, the rink
    Lively with children, to the older men,
    The long companions they can never reach,
    The blue light, men with ladders, by the church
    The sledge and shadow in the twilit street,

    Are not aware that in the sandy time
    To come, the evil waste of history
    Outstretched, they will be seen upon the brow
    Of that same hill: when all their company
    Will have been irrecoverably lost,

    These men, this particular three in brown
    Witnessed by birds will keep the scene and say
    By their configuration with the trees,
    The small bridge, the red houses and the fire,
    What place, what time, what morning occasion

    Sent them into the wood, a pack of hounds
    At heel and the tall poles upon their shoulders,
    Thence to return as now we see them and
    Ankle-deep in snow down the winter hill
    Descend, while three birds watch and the fourth flies.

    The Statue

    The statue, tolerant through years of weather,
    Spares the untidy Sunday throng its look,
    Spares shopgirls knowledge of the fatal pallor
    Under their evening colour,
    Spares homosexuals, the crippled, the alone,
    Extravagant perception of their failure;
    Looks only, cynical, across them all
    To the delightful Avenue and its lights.

    Where I sit, near the entrance to the Park,
    The charming dangerous entrance to their need,
    Dozens, a hundred men have lain till morning
    And the preservative darkness waning,
    Waking to want, to the day before, desire
    For the ultimate good, Respect, to hunger waking;
    Like the statue ruined but without its eyes;
    Turned vaguely out at dawn for a new day.

    Fountains I hear behind me on the left,
    See green, see natural life springing in May
    To spend its summer sheltering our lovers,
    Those walks so shortly to be over.
    The sound of water cannot startle them
    Although their happiness runs out like water,
    Of too much sweetness the expected drain.
    They trust their Spring; they have not seen the statue.

    Disfigurement is general. Nevertheless
    Winters have not been able to alter its pride,
    If that expression is a pride remaining,
    Coriolanus and Rome burning,
    An aristocracy that moves no more.
    Scholars can stay their pity; from the ceiling
    Watch blasted and superb inhabitants,
    The wreck and justifying ruined stare.

    Since graduating from its years of flesh
    The name has faded in the public mind
    Or doubled: which is this? the elder? younger?
    The statesman or the traveller?
    Who first died or who edited his works,
    The lonely brother bound to remain longer
    By a quarter-century than the first-born
    Of that illustrious and lost family?

    The lovers pass. Not one of them can know
    Or care which Humboldt is immortalized.
    If they glance up, they glance in passing,
    An idle outcome of that pacing
    That never stops, and proves them animal;
    These thighs breasts pointed eyes are not their choosing,
    But blind insignia by which are known
    Season, excitement, loosed upon this city.

    Turning: the brilliant Avenue, red, green,
    The laws of passage; marvellous hotels;
    Beyond, the dark apartment where one summer
    Night an insignificant dreamer,
    Defeated occupant, will close his eyes
    Mercifully on the expensive drama
    Wherein he wasted so much skill, such faith,
    And salvaged less than the intolerable statue.

    The Disciple

    Summoned from offices and homes, we came.
    By candle-light we heard him sing;
    We saw him with a delicate length of string
    Hide coins and bring a paper through a flame;
    I was amazed by what that man could do.
    And later on, in broad daylight,
    He made someone sit suddenly upright
    Who had lain long dead and whose face was blue.

    But most he would astonish us with talk.
    The warm sad cadence of his voice,
    His compassion, and our terror of his choice,
    Brought each of us both glad and mad to walk
    Beside him in the hills after sundown.
    He spoke of birds, of children, long
    And rubbing tribulation without song
    For the indigent and crippled of this town.

    Ventriloquist and strolling mage, from us,
    Respectable citizens, he took
    The hearts and swashed them in an upland brook,
    Calling them his, all men's, anonymous.
    .. He gained a certain notoriety;
    The magical outcome of such love
    The State saw it could not at all approve
    And sought to learn where when that man would be.

    The people he had entertained stood by,
    I was among them, but one whom
    He harboured kissed him for the coppers' doom,
    Repenting later most most bitterly.
    They ran him down and drove him up the hill.
    He who had lifted but hearts stood
    With thieves, performing still what tricks he could
    For men to come, rapt in compassion still.
    Great nonsense has been spoken of that time.
    But I can tell you I saw then
    A terrible darkness on the face of men,
    His last astonishment; and now that I'm
    Old I behold it as a young man yet.
    None of us now knows what it means,
    But to this day our loves and disciplines
    Worry themselves there. We do not forget.

    A Point of Age


    At twenty-five a man is on his way.
    The desolate childhood smokes on the dead hill,
    My adolescent brothels are shut down
    For industry has moved out of that town;
    Only the time-dishonoured beggars and
    The flat policemen, victims, I see still.
    Twenty-five is a time to move away.

    The travelling hands upon the tower call,
    The clock-face telescopes a long desire:
    Out of the city as the autos stream
    I watch, I whisper, Is it time .. time?
    Fog is enveloping the bridges, lodgers
    Shoulder and fist each other in the mire
    Where later, leaves, untidy lives will fall.

    Companions, travellers, by luck, by fault
    Whose none can ever decide, friends I had
    Have frozen back or slipt ahead or let
    Landscape juggle their destinations, slut
    Solace and drink drown the degraded eye.
    The fog is settling and the night falls, sad,
    Across the forward shadows where friends halt.

    Images are the mind's life, and they change.
    How to arrange it — what can one afford
    When ghosts and goods tether the twitching will
    Where it has stood content and would stand still
    If time's map bore the brat of time intact?
    Odysseys I examine, bed on a board,
    Heartbreak familiar as the heart is strange.

    In the city of the stranger I discovered
    Strike and corruption: cars reared on the bench
    To horn their justice at the citizen's head
    And hallow the citizen deaf, half-dead.
    The quiet man from his own window saw
    Insane wind take the ash, his favourite branch
    Wrench, crack; the hawk came down, the raven hovered.

    Slow spent stars wheel and dwindle where I fell.
    Physicians are a constellation where
    The blown brain sits a fascist to the heart.
    Late, it is late, and it is time to start.
    Sanction the civic woe, deal with your dear,
    Convince the stranger: none of us is well.
    We must travel in the direction of our fear.


    By what weird ways, Mather and Boone, we came.
    Ethan Allen, father, in the rebel wood
    Teach trust and disobedience to the son
    Who neither obeys nor can disobey One
    No longer, down the reaches of his longing, known.
    Speak from the forest and declare my blood
    Dishonour, a trick a mockery my name.

    You, Shaver, other shade, rébel again,
    Great-grandfather, attest my hopeless need
    Amongst the chromium luxury of the age
    Uncomfortable, threadbare, apt to rage.
    Recall your office, exile; tell me now
    To devour the annals of the valuable dead,
    Fish for the cortex, candour for my pain.

    Horizons perish from a hacking eye! ..
    The Hero, haggard on the top of time,
    Enacts his inconceivable woe and pride
    Plunging his enemies down the mountainside,
    Lesson and master. We are come to learn
    Compassion from the last and piercing scream
    Of who was lifted before he could die.

    Animal-and-Hero, where you lounge the air
    Is the air of summer, smooth and masculine
    As skin over a muscle; but the day
    Darkens, and it is time to move away.
    Old friends unbolt the night wherein you roam;
    Wind rises, lightning, rain beats, you begin
    The climb the conflict that are your desire.

    In storm and gloom, before it is too late
    I make my testament. I bequeath my heart
    To the disillusioned few who have wished me well;
    My vision I leave to one who has the will
    To master it, and the consuming art;
    What else — the sorrow, the disease, the hate —
    I scatter; and I am prepared to start.


    What is the age of naked man? His time
    Scrawls the engrossing tumult on green mould
    In a cellar and disreputable place.
    Consternation and Hope war in his face.
    Writhing upon his bed who achieves sleep
    Who is alone? Man in the cradle, old,
    Rocks on the fiery earth, smoke is his fame.

    Prophecy is another smoke, and lost.
    To say that country, time to come, will be
    The island or harbour city of our choice
    Argues the sick will raving in the voice.
    The pythoness is mute upon her bier,
    Cassandra took a thrust she would not see
    And dropt for daughter an inarticulate ghost.

    The animal within the animal
    How shall we satisfy? With toys its fear,
    With incantation its adorable trust?
    Shall we say 'We were once and we shall be dust'
    Or nourish it with confident lies and look
    Contentment? What can the animal bear?
    Whose version brightens that will not appal?

    Watch in the valleys for the sign of snow.
    Watch the light. Where the riotous leaves lay
    Will arise a winter man at the New Year
    And speak. No eye will be dry, none shall fear.
    — That time is not yet, and our eyes are now:
    Twenty-five is a time to move away.
    Late on the perilous wood the son flies low.

    The projection of the tower on the pine
    Wavers. The wind will fan and force the fire
    Streaming across our ditches to find wood.
    All that someone has wished or understood
    Is fuel to the holocaust he lives;
    It spreads, it is the famine of his desire,
    The tongue teeth eyes of your will and of mine.

    What then to praise, what love, what look to have?
    The animals who lightless live, alone
    And dark die. We await the rising moon.
    When the moon lifts, lagging winter moon,
    Its white face over time where the sun shone
    Gold once, we have a work to do, a grave
    At last for the honourable and exhausted man.

    Detroit, 1940

    The Traveller

    They pointed me out on the highway, and they said
    'That man has a curious way of holding his head.'

    They pointed me out on the beach; they said 'That man
    Will never become as we are, try as he can.'

    They pointed me out at the station, and the guard
    Looked at me twice, thrice, thoughtfully & hard.

    I took the same train that the others took,
    To the same place. Were it not for that look
    And those words, we were all of us the same.
    I studied merely maps. I tried to name
    The effects of motion on the travellers,
    I watched the couple I could see, the curse
    And blessings of that couple, their destination,
    The deception practised on them at the station,
    Their courage. When the train stopped and they knew
    The end of their journey, I descended too.

    The Ball Poem

    What is the boy now, who has lost his ball,
    What, what is he to do? I saw it go
    Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
    Merrily over — there it is in the water!
    No use to say 'O there are other balls':
    An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
    As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
    All his young days into the harbour where
    His ball went. I would not intrude on him,
    A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
    He senses first responsibility
    In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
    Balls will be lost always, little boy,
    And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
    He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
    The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
    Knowing what every man must one day know
    And most know many days, how to stand up
    And gradually light returns to the street,
    A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight,
    Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
    Floor of the harbour .. I am everywhere,
    I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
    With all that move me, under the water
    Or whistling, I am not a little boy.


Excerpted from John Berryman: Collected Poems, 1937â"1971 by John Berryman, Charles Thornbury. Copyright © 1989 Kate Donahue Berryman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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