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Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and Other Poems

Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and Other Poems

by John Berryman, Ben Shahn (Illustrator)

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and Other Poems

By John Berryman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1968 John Berryman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7957-7


    Homage to Mistress Bradstreet


    The Governor your husband lived so long
    moved you not, restless, waiting for him? Still,
    you were a patient woman —
    I seem to see you pause here still:
    Sylvester, Quarles, in moments odd you pored
    before a fire at, bright eyes on the Lord,
    all the children still.
    'Simon ..' Simon will listen while you read a Song.


    Outside the New World winters in grand dark
    white air lashing high thro' the virgin stands
    foxes down foxholes sigh,
    surely the English heart quails, stunned.
    I doubt if Simon than this blast, that sea,
    spares from his rigour for your poetry
    more. We are on each other's hands
    who care. Both of our worlds unhanded us. Lie stark,


    thy eyes look to me mild. Out of maize & air
    your body's made, and moves. I summon, see,
    from the centuries it.
    I think you won't stay. How do we
    linger, diminished, in our lovers' air,
    implausibly visible, to whom, a year,
    years, over interims; or not;
    to a long stranger; or not; shimmer and disappear.


    Jaw-ript, rot with its wisdom, rending then;
    then not. When the mouth dies, who misses you?
    Your master never died,
    Simon ah thirty years past you —
    Pockmarkt & westward staring on a haggard deck
    it seems I find you, young. I come to check,
    I come to stay with you,
    and the Governor, & Father, & Simon, & the huddled men.


    By the week we landed we were, most, used up.
    Strange ships across us, after a fortnight's winds
    unfavouring, frightened us;
    bone-sad cold, sleet, scurvy; so were ill
    many as one day we could have no sermons;
    broils, quelled; a fatherless child unkennelled; vermin
    crowding & waiting: waiting.
    And the day itself he leapt ashore young Henry Winthrop


    (delivered from the waves; because he found
    off their wigwams, sharp-eyed, a lone canoe
    across a tidal river,
    that water glittered fair & blue
    & narrow, none of the other men could swim
    and the plantation's prime theft up to him,
    shouldered on a glad day
    hard on the glorious feasting of thanksgiving) drowned.


    How long with nothing in the ruinous heat,
    clams & acorns stomaching, distinction perishing,
    at which my heart rose,
    with brackish water, we would sing.
    When whispers knew the Governor's last bread
    was browning in his oven, we were discourag'd.
    The Lady Arbella dying —
    dyings — at which my heart rose, but I did submit.


    That beyond the Atlantic wound our woes enlarge
    is hard, hard that starvation burnishes our fear,
    but I do gloss for You.
    Strangers & pilgrims fare we here,
    declaring we seek a City. Shall we be deceived?
    I know whom I have trusted, & whom I have believed,
    and that he is able to
    keep that I have committed to his charge.


    Winter than summer worse, that first, like a file
    on a quick, or the poison suck of a thrilled tooth;
    and still we may unpack.
    Wolves & storms among, uncouth
    board-pieces, boxes, barrels vanish, grow
    houses, rise. Motes that hop in sunlight slow
    indoors, and I am Ruth
    away: open my mouth, my eyes wet: I wóuld smile:


    vellum I palm, and dream. Their forest dies
    to greensward, privets, elms & towers, whence
    a nightingale is throbbing.
    Women sleep sound. I was happy once ..
    (Something keeps on not happening; I shrink?)
    These minutes all their passions & powers sink
    and I am not one chance
    for an unknown cry or a flicker of unknown eyes.


    Chapped souls ours, by the day Spring's strong winds swelled,
    Jack's pulpits arched, more glad. The shawl I pinned
    flaps like a shooting soul
    might in such weather Heaven send.
    Succumbing half, in spirit, to a salmon sash
    I prod the nerveless novel succotash —
    I must be disciplined,
    in arms, against that one, and our dissidents, and myself.


    Versing, I shroud among the dynasties;
    quaternion on quaternion, tireless I phrase
    anything past, dead, far,
    sacred, for a barbarous place.
    — To please your wintry father? all this bald
    abstract didactic rime I read appalled
    harassed for your fame
    mistress neither of fiery nor velvet verse, on your knees


    hopeful & shamefast, chaste, laborious, odd,
    whom the sea tore. — The damned roar with loss,
    so they hug & are mean
    with themselves, and I cannot be thus.
    Why then do I repine, sick, bad, to long
    after what must not be? I lie wrong
    once more. For at fourteen
    I found my heart more carnal and sitting loose from God,


    vanity & the follies of youth took hold of me;
    then the pox blasted, when the Lord returned.
    That year for my sorry face
    so-much-older Simon burned,
    so Father smiled, with love. Their will be done.
    He to me ill lingeringly, learning to shun
    a bliss, a lightning blood
    vouchsafed, what did seem life. I kissed his Mystery.


    Drydust in God's eye the aquavivid skin
    of Simon snoring lit with fountaining dawn
    when my eyes unlid, sad.
    John Cotton shines on Boston's sin —
    I ám drawn, in pieties that seem
    the weary drizzle of an unremembered dream.
    Women have gone mad
    at twenty-one. Ambition mines, atrocious, in.


    Food endless, people few, all to be done.
    As pippins roast, the question of the wolves
    turns & turns.
    Fangs of a wolf will keep, the neck
    round of a child, that child brave. I remember who
    in meeting smiled & was punisht, and I know who
    whispered & was stockt.
    We lead a thoughtful life. But Boston's cage we shun.


    The winters close, Springs open, no child stirs
    under my withering heart, O seasoned heart
    God grudged his aid.
    All things else soil like a shirt.
    Simon is much away. My executive stales.
    The town came through for the cartway by the pales,
    but my patience is short,
    I revolt from, I am like, these savage foresters


    whose passionless dicker in the shade, whose glance
    impassive & scant, belie their murderous cries
    when quarry seems to show.
    Again I must have been wrong, twice.
    Unwell in a new way. Can that begin?
    God brandishes. O love, O I love. Kin,
    gather. My world is strange
    and merciful, ingrown months, blessing a swelling trance.


    So squeezed, wince you I scream? I love you & hate
    off with you. Ages! Useless. Below my waist
    he has me in Hell's vise.
    Stalling. He let go. Come back: brace
    me somewhere. No. No. Yes! everything down
    hardens I press with horrible joy down
    my back cracks like a wrist
    shame I am voiding oh behind it is too late


    hide me forever I work thrust I must free
    now I all muscles & bones concentrate
    what is living from dying?
    Simon I must leave you so untidy
    Monster you are killing me Be sure
    I'll have you later Women do endure
    I can can no longer
    and it passes the wretched trap whelming and I am me


    drencht & powerful, I did it with my body!
    One proud tug greens Heaven. Marvellous,
    unforbidding Majesty.
    Swell, imperious bells. I fly.
    Mountainous, woman not breaks and will bend:
    sways God nearby: anguish comes to an end.
    Blossomed Sarah, and I
    blossom. Is that thing alive? I hear a famisht howl.


    Beloved household, I am Simon's wife,
    and the mother of Samuel — whom greedy yet I miss
    out of his kicking place.
    More in some ways I feel at a loss,
    freer. Cantabanks & mummers, nears
    longing for you. Our chopping scores my ears,
    our costume bores my eyes.
    St. George to the good sword, rise! chop-logic's rife


    & fever & Satan & Satan's ancient fere.
    Pioneering is not feeling well,
    not Indians, beasts.
    Not all their riddling can forestall
    one leaving. Sam, your uncle has had to
    go fróm us to live with God. 'Then Aunt went too?'
    Dear, she does wait still.
    Stricken: 'Oh. Then he takes us one by one.' My dear.


    Forswearing it otherwise, they starch their minds.
    Folkmoots, & blether, blether. John Cotton rakes
    to the synod of Cambridge.
    Down from my body my legs flow,
    out from it arms wave, on it my head shakes.
    Now Mistress Hutchinson rings forth a call —
    should she? many creep out at a broken wall —
    affirming the Holy Ghost
    dwells in one justified. Factioning passion blinds


    all to all her good, all — can she be exiled?
    Bitter sister, victim! I miss you.
    — I miss you, Anne,
    day or night weak as a child,
    tender & empty, doomed, quick to no tryst.
    — I hear you. Be kind, you who leaguer
    my image in the mist.
    — Be kind you, to one unchained eager far & wild


    and if, O my love, my heart is breaking, please
    neglect my cries and I will spare you. Deep
    in Time's grave, Love's, you lie still.
    Lie still. — Now? That happy shape
    my forehead had under my most long, rare,
    ravendark, hidden, soft bodiless hair
    you award me still.
    You must not love me, but I do not bid you cease.


    Veiled my eyes, attending. How can it be I?
    Moist, with parted lips, I listen, wicked.
    I shake in the morning & retch.
    Brood I do on myself naked.
    A fading world I dust, with fingers new.
    — I have earned the right to be alone with you.
    — What right can that be?
    Convulsing, if you love, enough, like a sweet lie.


    Not that, I know, you can. This cratered skin,
    like the crabs & shells of my Palissy ewer, touch!
    Oh, you do, you do?
    Falls on me what I like a witch,
    for lawless holds, annihilations of law
    which Time and he and man abhor, foresaw:
    sharper than what my Friend
    brought me for my revolt when I moved smooth & thin,


Excerpted from Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and Other Poems by John Berryman. Copyright © 1968 John 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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