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The Dream Songs is widely seen as Berryman's masterpiece, an impressively vast and varied collection of poems that is in itself a single, sprawling, ever-shifting poem. The songs in this great work are thus offered in many different tones, moods, and guises, although their form, Berryman's idiosyncratic reworking of the sonnet, remains more or less constant.Combining all o The Dream Songs is widely seen as Berryman's masterpiece, an impressively vast and varied collection of poems that is in itself a single, sprawling, ever-shifting poem. The songs in this great work are thus offered in many different tones, moods, and guises, although their form, Berryman's idiosyncratic reworking of the sonnet, remains more or less constant.Combining all of Berryman's earlier 77 Dream Songs (which won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize) and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (which won the 1969 National Book Award), this one-volume edition contains no fewer than 385 entries in what the critic Denis Donoghue has called Berryman's "dream diary." The book also has an index of first lines, an index of titles, and a note by the author.


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The Dream Songs is widely seen as Berryman's masterpiece, an impressively vast and varied collection of poems that is in itself a single, sprawling, ever-shifting poem. The songs in this great work are thus offered in many different tones, moods, and guises, although their form, Berryman's idiosyncratic reworking of the sonnet, remains more or less constant.Combining all o The Dream Songs is widely seen as Berryman's masterpiece, an impressively vast and varied collection of poems that is in itself a single, sprawling, ever-shifting poem. The songs in this great work are thus offered in many different tones, moods, and guises, although their form, Berryman's idiosyncratic reworking of the sonnet, remains more or less constant.Combining all of Berryman's earlier 77 Dream Songs (which won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize) and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (which won the 1969 National Book Award), this one-volume edition contains no fewer than 385 entries in what the critic Denis Donoghue has called Berryman's "dream diary." The book also has an index of first lines, an index of titles, and a note by the author.

30 review for The Dream Songs: Poems (FSG Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mariel

    There sat down, once, a thing on Henry's heart so heavy, if he had a hundred years & more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time Henry could not make good.  Starts again always in Henry's ears the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime. And there is another thing he has in mind  like a grave Sienese face a thousand years would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly, with open eyes, he attends, blind. All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears; thinking. But never did Harry, as h There sat down, once, a thing on Henry's heart so heavy, if he had a hundred years & more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time Henry could not make good.  Starts again always in Henry's ears the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime. And there is another thing he has in mind  like a grave Sienese face a thousand years would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly, with open eyes, he attends, blind. All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears; thinking. But never did Harry, as he thought he did,  end anyone and hacks her body up and hide the pieces, where they may be found. He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody's missing.  Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up. Nobody is ever missing. dreamsong 29 Henry's shaking hand never touches my throat, his Vulcan death grip imagines below room temperature flesh through the hand rests,  is televised in they made me take a dive condensation. Think a special hard and maybe he'll touch you. Out of body I see me held to the floor in why do I live this way. It's a trick of the light. Dumbo needed the feather to fly. The show is going to end any moment now and then there will be commercials. It's time to take a leak during commercials. I wanted to go already, forget the program, lose the years of is that them or me. Put it in a trick of the light. Not a day goes by without an elephant getting their feather for a bell's ring. I saw the misery, the dark, could almost smell the sweat and the tired eyes when you channel surfed for too long. Please something come on to care about. The finger on the remote. His or mine. Then my eyes stopped on a despairing voice and it's too late. Then my ears heard how it sounds when they despaired too often, knew the hangover payoff. Then through the wind tunnels of his head it entered mine. He heard them step out of their body. The wallowing hands out. Learned & otherelse, upon the ruins How is it faith finds ever matters rough? My honey must flow off in the great rains, as all the parts thereto do thereto belong ha, and we are picked toward the last love, the last dream, the last song dreamsong 137 The moment when you wake up. Henry doesn't dream to me. Dreaming to dreaming I don't sleep I wait like I put on a Chuck Norris chin fuzz after I life slept for the gold. My legs fall to sleep in his roundabout roundhouse kick to my face of dulled barstool ass. Heart attack and pine.  He had followers but they could not find him;  friends but they could not find him. He hid his gift in the center of manhattan, without a girl, in cheap hotels, so disturbed on the street friends avoided him Where did he come by his gift? dreamsong 150 Cut off your hair, these poems, and show you you in the mirror. I did it for me, I mean you. The poet watches his fall and writes his eulogy in the time it takes for his life with hoarded words to flash before his eyes. Wordless, because he will still die. What did Berryman wish he wrote his poems for when what to see in the cuttings on the floor is the same. Hands out. If you live in a state of fear your body will be attacked by the heart or is that attack the heart. This is John Berryman's The Dream Songs. He'll wake up to fear dying again another day. I don't want to find out if I can't with him anymore. Give him short skirts in Dublin if he may. I don't give a shit about a guy maybe or maybe not getting laid a long time ago. It's romance on tv. It's nothing. If he's good to them from far away I don't care. I don't see anybody else there. I cared and I didn't give a shit. You don't get to open doors in dreams. I guess is the law. That's when I wanted to leave.

  2. 4 out of 5

    AK

    mid-way through i wrote: i am deep into The Dream Songs, John Berryman's book of 385 poems published in 1969, such that i found myself wondering last night whether i can continue to relate to people who haven't read them. this particular effect wore off about an hour after i put the book down, but that's how powerful they are, taken many at a time. the depth of expression and range of emotion is really unlike anything i've ever encountered; he has me grinning wryly one moment and broken hearted t mid-way through i wrote: i am deep into The Dream Songs, John Berryman's book of 385 poems published in 1969, such that i found myself wondering last night whether i can continue to relate to people who haven't read them. this particular effect wore off about an hour after i put the book down, but that's how powerful they are, taken many at a time. the depth of expression and range of emotion is really unlike anything i've ever encountered; he has me grinning wryly one moment and broken hearted ten songs later. i have more to say, but that's all for now. 192 Love me love me love me love me love me I am in need thereof, I mean of love, I married her. That was a hasty & a violent step like an unhopeful Kierkegardian leap, wasn’t it, dear? Slowly the sloth moved on in search of prey, I see that. The jungles flash with light, in some angles dark as midnight, and chuck chuck chuck the spark did make a noise when he cross the street on de electric wires but that sloth was alright. Swiftly the wind rose, gorgons showed their teeth, while the bombs bombed on empty territory beneath. I love you. Will I forget ever my sole guru far in Calcutta. I do not think so. Nor will I you. ------------------- and then, upon finishing: 366 Chilled in this Irish pub I wish my loves well, well to strangers, well to all his friends, seven or so in number, I forgive my enemies, especially two, races his heart, at so much magnanimity, can it all be true? - Mr Bones, you on a trip outside yourself. Has you seen a medicine man? You sound will-like, a testament & such. Is you going? - Oh, I suffer from a strike, a strike and three balls: I stand up for much, Wordsworth & that sort of thing. The pitcher dreamed. He threw a hazy curve, I took it in my stride & out I struck, lonesome Henry. These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand. They are only meant to terrify & comfort. Lilac was found in his hand. a quick key to decoding: the character Henry is the narrator of the dream songs; he writes of himself in both the first and third person, sometimes second. he is not Berryman, exactly, but almost, like a projection of Berryman. Henry is at times addressed by someone (unidentified, though probably also him) who calls him Mr Bones or some variant thereof. so, i can be rather flip, i know, but i really cannot find anything other than reverence for this work. amidst topics like society, adultery, religion, poetry, travel and fame, Berryman writes repeatedly and with varying degrees of explicitness about his father's suicide, the death's of friends and his own ambivalence about continuing to live, and my heart breaks for him and with his. i'm inclined to go on, quote my favorites, explain, but this is not a freshman english paper, and these songs might be things that one just needs to seek out for oneself.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mike Lindgren

    My relationship with John Berryman’s Dream Songs, like the songs themselves, is murky, complicated, obscure in origin, and not easy to explain—not even to myself. One signpost of great art, it seems to me, is that the meaning of its greatness shifts in relation to the reader over time, and my appreciation of The Dream Songs has deepened and evolved—as I expect it will continue to for the rest of my life—in the two decades since it first came to my attention. In my twenties I knew that Berryman wa My relationship with John Berryman’s Dream Songs, like the songs themselves, is murky, complicated, obscure in origin, and not easy to explain—not even to myself. One signpost of great art, it seems to me, is that the meaning of its greatness shifts in relation to the reader over time, and my appreciation of The Dream Songs has deepened and evolved—as I expect it will continue to for the rest of my life—in the two decades since it first came to my attention. In my twenties I knew that Berryman was, like me, an alcoholic, and that he committed suicide in Minneapolis in 1972, and being at an age susceptible to the romantic myth of the doomed, hard-drinking mystic, the messy glamour of the dissolute—before I came to know (that is, in real terms, hard terms, blood terms) the cost of that myth—I was intrigued. I knew too that he was considered a brilliant and impenetrable poet, an impression that was confirmed by my first casual glance into an edition of 77 Dream Songs on the shelf of my boss’s office in Cambridge. These were not like other poems: within their consistent 16-line armature they were turbulent, mad, feverish, cryptic, an unruly union of boppy jive-talk, and thorny quasi-Elizabethan diction. It was impossible to tell who was speaking, or to whom; poems ended in mid-syllable, bristled with random phrases in foreign languages, sported menacing-looking accent marks and Shakespearean contractions, were riddled with ampersands and ellipses. The whole thing was messy, hallucinatory, and impossible to resist; it was the Exile on Main Street of poetry, and I was hooked. As the shadows over my own life lengthened, scattered phrases accrued talismanic power. “He stared at ruin. Ruin stared straight back,” begins number 45; then, “I’m too alone. I see no end” and “Lightning fell silent where the Devil knelt.” “Hell talkt my brain awake,” says Henry, the mysterious semi-protagonist, at one point, and it seemed as fit a phrase for my existence—insomniac, deeply unhappy—as any. Safely on the other side of life again at age 32, I was given for my birthday, by my parents, a very nearly mint-condition first edition of the complete cycle, the celebrated Farrar Straus hardcover from 1968, featuring Charles Skaggs’s bold white-pink-and-green typography. The interior design, which follows the template set by the brilliant Guy Fleming for the original 1964 edition of 77 Dream Songs, is austere and beautiful, with that slightly antique feel of openness and clarity that seems particular to book design of that era. (Someday I would like an expert in the history of typography to explain to me how this is so). I have it in front of me now, paging through it as I try to capture, clumsily, the strange beauty of this half-understood work, to anatomize its appeal. The Dream Songs collectively is many things: a record of a consciousness, a song cycle, an ongoing formalist experiment, a journal of an imaginary insanity, a high-modernist word collage, and an elegy for a generation of poets. The work as a whole is death-haunted, with each successive passing of another poet or peer—Jarrell, Roethke, Schwartz, Williams—bringing a yearning elegy, grave and often touching, as the poet bends his soul towards the haven that they have found and that he will gain only through force of self-violence. As the songs pile up and the years pass the prosody becomes starker, cleaner, marginally more transparent, yet somehow purer in its despair: the world’s longest and most eloquent suicide note. There is also an engagingly quotidian quality to the work, as in a journal: occasional mentions of the outside world, of presidents, the Cold War, the Congo, Vietnam, peek through the whirling kaleidoscope of the poet / narrator’s brain, like a slideshow of the darkening sixties playing in an adjacent room. Other songs seem to hint acidly at the growing professional and academic demands of Berryman’s career. All of this is filtered through a blurry, argumentative stream of voices that is extremely difficult to decode, Berryman’s own note—Henry is “not the poet, not me”—being of limited assistance in the matter. Better minds than mine have tried to identify a consistent schema of speakerly identification for the Songs, which seem to be narrated from a kind of shifting first-and-a-half-person, the half-person being the poet’s unseen companion, who addresses him as “Mr. Bones” in the rhythms of a not entirely convincing African-American patois, and who may be a schizophrenic counterpart of the narrator and/or Henry. What is to my mind undeniable about the poems is the sense of mystery, of the uncanny, of a shifting, fully inhabited interior consciousness, however opaque or inaccessible, that they convey. Not everyone agrees: the great postwar critic M. L. Rosenthal, for one, thought that The Dream Songs was a step backwards for Berryman, calling it “work we must forage (in) too much on our own.” It’s an interesting word, “forage,” and apt, for to my mind, a mental “foraging” is in fact the primary experience of reading, especially work so dense and demanding as Berryman’s. And the fruits of my expeditions into the verbal thickets left behind by this brilliant, sad, unlucky, intense man, are a paradoxically heightened sense of freedom and gratitude, an attentiveness to the air and light around me, the twinkling of the city at night, a hunger for “tasting all the secret bits of life.” From "The Last Book I Loved," The Rumpus / Storyboard, February 15, 2013

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I've been pecking, then rummaging, then gobbling, then feasting, then gagging, then lilting over these poems for the past month or so. I appreciate it when more erudite people than myself admit that they might easily tag a poetry book with the triumphal term "read" when- alas! world enough and tome!- they haven't actually, literally, sat down and read all of it, as one reads novels or short stories. Very few poets can really claim this, at least in my reading life, ironically it's rarer than you I've been pecking, then rummaging, then gobbling, then feasting, then gagging, then lilting over these poems for the past month or so. I appreciate it when more erudite people than myself admit that they might easily tag a poetry book with the triumphal term "read" when- alas! world enough and tome!- they haven't actually, literally, sat down and read all of it, as one reads novels or short stories. Very few poets can really claim this, at least in my reading life, ironically it's rarer than you think....think about it. Well, I'm most of the way through these mad and maddening, dry, objective, sweaty, self-deprecating, lacerating, sneakily surreal and hypnotizingly assured poems. Here, check them out yourself. Luckily for us, Berryman happens to be a pretty fulsome and dramatic reader of his own work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGIr7f... This one has a little interview snippet in the beginning, dig his tombstone beard and angular glasses and his fine, thin, fluttering, childlike hands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&... I think the two readings are from the same night, or at least the same era, when Berryman received a MacArthur grant or a Guggenheim or whatever the hell to travel and live and work in Ireland for awhile. He might be bombed, he might just be getting emotional over his own work, but he also might be totally bombed.... It's already a little late in the game library-wise...it's due in a couple days and I have a bust schedule of chaos at this point in my life. The honest, spitty, rabble-rousing voice is so...refreshing. It's nice to hear common speech thrown in with snarky, severe, incantatory phrases. It reminds me that you don't have to don your Shelley mask in order to reach the heights of poesy and that a sharp-eyed yet anguished and slow-motion collapsing neurotic can rally to make it new, and last. Salut! *** Didn't finish it. Gotta be honest about this, but I will definitely get my hands on a copy asap.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John

    Here it is Columbus Day weekend, & again I'm setting out in the too-small boats of my brains & sensibility across the turbulence of these DREAM SONGS. Here be monsters. Berryman's singed-earth spiral down to eventual suicide was fueled not so much by his love of alcohol, not nearly, as by his unrelenting alertness to human idiocy, most especially the poet's. He lived & wrote in a midnight which no amount of gin could keep at bay. Nor did it help that the man's attempts to tame his terrors came t Here it is Columbus Day weekend, & again I'm setting out in the too-small boats of my brains & sensibility across the turbulence of these DREAM SONGS. Here be monsters. Berryman's singed-earth spiral down to eventual suicide was fueled not so much by his love of alcohol, not nearly, as by his unrelenting alertness to human idiocy, most especially the poet's. He lived & wrote in a midnight which no amount of gin could keep at bay. Nor did it help that the man's attempts to tame his terrors came the closest to a bumptious Americanization of the sonnet anyone ever wrought. Once you adjust to his roughhewn whittles, unrhymed & clattery & yet always hinting of a better rhythm just beyond the poem's hide -- once you adjust, you're reminded at once: the word "sonnet" comes from the Italian for "song." Then too, while the dreams getting sung here tend to be nightmares, they play out w/ an undeniable comedy, some of the greatest wiseacre one- & two-liners in American poetry. Most of these SONGS, after all, depend on some some bitter-wit patter out of Mr. Bones, the vaudeville interlocutor, & he's always too sharp for the poet's stand-in "Henry," a figure never quite certain what he's doing on stage. Any number of these will fetch up a surprising delight, a gallows chuckle: from the famed losing battle against boredom (#14) to the dance w/ the girl "in a short short dress" who crashes Henry-Berryman's funeral & waltzes him away (#382). Here be monsters, yes, but they wear the haggard disenchanted faces of closing time, & every other quip's a Brainiac teaser, yes, they play like porpoises in fact, & the upshot is, the reader who dives in among them often enough will end up cleansed & nourished like never before

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    I was often confused and frustrated by this book. Berryman was by all accounts a vicious drunk and an entirely unlikable person, and these poems seem to reflect that; there's not much here to make you fall sunny in love with the text in front of you. Still, there are these snatches every two pages or so that keep you reading, and there are some parts that are really lovely. The first part, written in almost entirely free verse, seems more successful than the second, which has a strict meter. The I was often confused and frustrated by this book. Berryman was by all accounts a vicious drunk and an entirely unlikable person, and these poems seem to reflect that; there's not much here to make you fall sunny in love with the text in front of you. Still, there are these snatches every two pages or so that keep you reading, and there are some parts that are really lovely. The first part, written in almost entirely free verse, seems more successful than the second, which has a strict meter. The opening is amazing; the book actually doesn't get much better. A note: there's a troubling use of faked "blackface" minstrel dialogue all throughout the first section of this book. You'll probably know pretty quickly whether you can stomach it. I could, but barely, and only because I read Berryman's explanatory note and thought I understood it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joe Hunt

    I had to read these in Poetry School. Almost everything else there I liked--but not these. I just didn't get it. Pretty hard to read. Just not very fun. (I know they're not meant for fun. Still...) Somehow, nothing to pull you in. Just kind of grating, off-putting. Also...You ever read "Cat's Cradle" ? How they say "No damned cat. No damned cradle." I thought that here. Where's the dreams? Where's the song? (And I've even heard some good explanations, too--about this stuff.) That Dreamsongs from some anci I had to read these in Poetry School. Almost everything else there I liked--but not these. I just didn't get it. Pretty hard to read. Just not very fun. (I know they're not meant for fun. Still...) Somehow, nothing to pull you in. Just kind of grating, off-putting. Also...You ever read "Cat's Cradle" ? How they say "No damned cat. No damned cradle." I thought that here. Where's the dreams? Where's the song? (And I've even heard some good explanations, too--about this stuff.) That Dreamsongs from some ancient / older culture -- that b/4 dying, get some message or something. Heard Joe Wenderoth give a speech: that when faced with the Poetic Moment, kind of horrifying--and mortality--overwhelming, kind of a nightmare, it makes sense that even your language is disrupted, disjointed... And I still don't like them that much.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Xantha Page

    This feels like a harsh rating because, even though a good 80-90% of this did nothing or little for me, there were some poems I rather liked. Credit to where it's due, the opening poem grabbed me the way the incipit of any long poem should. You can watch Berryman give drunk readings of two of my favorites here and here. This feels like a harsh rating because, even though a good 80-90% of this did nothing or little for me, there were some poems I rather liked. Credit to where it's due, the opening poem grabbed me the way the incipit of any long poem should. You can watch Berryman give drunk readings of two of my favorites here and here.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    John Berryman's sweeping anti-epic joins Eliot's "The Wasteland" and Tennyson's "In Memoriam" as one of the greatest poetic series ever crafted. Berryman's influences are as panoramic as the scope of his avatar Henry's transgressions. He draws from Freudian theory and Daddy Rice's Minstrel Shows, from Apocrypha to his father's suicide, from Relativity Theory to the untimely deaths of his fellow poets. Berryman's writing is painful and visceral, ethereal and transcendent, fantasy and disturbingly John Berryman's sweeping anti-epic joins Eliot's "The Wasteland" and Tennyson's "In Memoriam" as one of the greatest poetic series ever crafted. Berryman's influences are as panoramic as the scope of his avatar Henry's transgressions. He draws from Freudian theory and Daddy Rice's Minstrel Shows, from Apocrypha to his father's suicide, from Relativity Theory to the untimely deaths of his fellow poets. Berryman's writing is painful and visceral, ethereal and transcendent, fantasy and disturbingly real.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alice Coman

    "312 I have moved to Dublin to have it out with you, majestic Shade, You whom I read so well so many years ago, did I read your lesson right? did I see through your phases to the real? your heaven, your hell did I enquire properly into? For years then I forgot you, I put you down, ingratitude is the necessary curse of making things new: I brought my family to see me through, I brought my homage & my soft remorse, I brought a book or two only, including in the end your last strange poems made under the shadow "312 I have moved to Dublin to have it out with you, majestic Shade, You whom I read so well so many years ago, did I read your lesson right? did I see through your phases to the real? your heaven, your hell did I enquire properly into? For years then I forgot you, I put you down, ingratitude is the necessary curse of making things new: I brought my family to see me through, I brought my homage & my soft remorse, I brought a book or two only, including in the end your last strange poems made under the shadow of death Your high figures float again across my mind and all your past fills my walled garden with your honey breath wherein I move, a mote."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bhaskar Thakuria

    This is definitely one of those over-the-top books of poetry by a great American poet. Berryman, who first earned a steady reading circle in 1953 with Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, shot to poetic stardom in 1964 with the publication of 77 Dream Songs. This was followed in 1968 with His Toy, His Dream, His Rest- a further 308 dream songs, albeit much more straightforward compared to the original 77. This edition brings together these two volumes of poetry with all the 385 dream songs as The Drea This is definitely one of those over-the-top books of poetry by a great American poet. Berryman, who first earned a steady reading circle in 1953 with Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, shot to poetic stardom in 1964 with the publication of 77 Dream Songs. This was followed in 1968 with His Toy, His Dream, His Rest- a further 308 dream songs, albeit much more straightforward compared to the original 77. This edition brings together these two volumes of poetry with all the 385 dream songs as The Dream Songs. Being a fan of twentieth century American poetry I have a small but significant selection of titles. But it is grossly inadequate and I need to replenish my shelves one of these coming days. The last poetry books I had read included Jack Kerouac's Mexico City Blues, Louise Gluck's collection Poems 1962-2012, and Ruben Dario's selected edition in Spanish Rubén Darío, del símbolo a la realidad (Edición conmemorativa de la RAE y la ASALE): Obra selecta. That being said, I need to mention that this volume is an essential edition to the shelves of any serious collector of twentieth century American poetry and is an addition to that long list of epic American verse narratives viz. Pound's Cantos, Zukofsky's A, Olson's The Maximus Poems and Merrill's The Changing Light At Sandover.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    Reading THE DREAM SONGS by John Berryman is difficult, especially if you’ve seen him reading the poems on YouTube, drunk with an overgrown beard. He looks like a nut and he sounds like one, too. Maybe like a homeless guy you slow down to listen to as you pass on the street, who could be a brilliant mind or have a slowly bleeding hole in his brain. It's beautiful and alien. Berryman’s poetry is almost impenetrable for me, but then most everything is. However, I did have flashes of understanding a Reading THE DREAM SONGS by John Berryman is difficult, especially if you’ve seen him reading the poems on YouTube, drunk with an overgrown beard. He looks like a nut and he sounds like one, too. Maybe like a homeless guy you slow down to listen to as you pass on the street, who could be a brilliant mind or have a slowly bleeding hole in his brain. It's beautiful and alien. Berryman’s poetry is almost impenetrable for me, but then most everything is. However, I did have flashes of understanding a few times over the four-hundred-odd pages. His language goes high and low, personal and contemplative, political and theatrical, too, with a mistrial show troupe that ties much of the dialogues about Henry together — Henry, who isn’t and is the narrator, and the voices narrating the poems, which move away from first person, but never too far. And yet throughout I was held captive by the sounds of the words, like the songs of the title, and dreamlike too, in their collection of a life both lived and imagined. It’s really an achievement, but of what I can’t say, and isn't that great?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jim Collins

    The aging Professor Berryman was at the top of his career. He lived with a beautiful young woman, he was well respected in the literary community and on the job at the University of Minnesota, and was regarded as one of the era's more -- ahem -- original poets. But if you read "Dream Songs" it might not be too much of a surprise to you that he jumped off Minneapolis's Washington Avenue Bridge to his death in 1972. His poetry --occasionally hilarious, often spooky, always original -- betrays the The aging Professor Berryman was at the top of his career. He lived with a beautiful young woman, he was well respected in the literary community and on the job at the University of Minnesota, and was regarded as one of the era's more -- ahem -- original poets. But if you read "Dream Songs" it might not be too much of a surprise to you that he jumped off Minneapolis's Washington Avenue Bridge to his death in 1972. His poetry --occasionally hilarious, often spooky, always original -- betrays the dark soul of a wet alcoholic. This is truly engaging verse, but be prepared ... this man did not think normally.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dirk

    Dumb, unmusical maundering stuff. Self-centered without being self-illuminating, esoteric without being cultivated. Gave up half way through

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I liked sad comical Henry as a kid, but find it all too personal, too inward, too confessional, too boring now.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I have had this book on my shelf for nearly six years. People always link Berryman to Plath, Sexton, and Lowell, so I kept continually thinking I should read this book, as I love those writers. However, every time I opened it, I felt lost in a dark, tangled woods. I just could NOT understand these poems! I would give up, put it back. Now, with a Master's in poetry under my belt, I said to myself, I am going to conquer these poems!! I must!! It's not easy. I grappled with them for about a hundred I have had this book on my shelf for nearly six years. People always link Berryman to Plath, Sexton, and Lowell, so I kept continually thinking I should read this book, as I love those writers. However, every time I opened it, I felt lost in a dark, tangled woods. I just could NOT understand these poems! I would give up, put it back. Now, with a Master's in poetry under my belt, I said to myself, I am going to conquer these poems!! I must!! It's not easy. I grappled with them for about a hundred pages, debating all the while if I should just give up again. I know, however, that these poems are heavily admired and I did not want to give up; I wanted to understand why the heck people like this uninviting book! I wanted to GET IT!! So I persisted, did some reading on the book, and when I read that even Lowell said that the poems are opaque and he only understood about half of them, I felt a bit better. And reading that Berryman intended many to not be understandable as a narrative, but terrifying as a dream in which the speaker is asleep, I let go of my frustration and let The Dream Songs do what they were meant to do. At first, I only kind of got it: there's a speaker, Henry. He's tormented. The poems are in three six line stanzas (666? Connection?). Sometimes they are musical and strict in meter, sometimes they are all willy nilly. Then there's the blackface verse, which is Henry's double? His most insecure, imperfect self? I'm not sure. But I can say I had a hard time with the blackface. I have a hard time with anything that I can feel comes off as racist in any way. Then there's Mr. Bones, who he speaks to, who sometimes answers (is Mr. Bones the same as the blackface voice? Mr. Bones is also his double? But Mr. Bones seems to be his wiser self. Again, not sure). But about a 100 pages in, the poems hit their stride. Despite the twisted syntax and sometimes nonsensical lines, the poems gained in clarity for me. Some of them were more narrative (like the ones about deaths of friends or fellow poets, or the one about his father's suicide--chilling!) And the ones that were not more narrative started to sink into me also--I deeply felt the terror, the indignation at the world's absurdities and atrocities, the deep, dark, lonely depression and rage. I found them powerful and admirable. I found that they gave me chills, I started to identify with Henry. I started to see the whole world around me through The Dream being conveyed to me. Some poems did not resonate at all, but when they did resonate, it was like striking a gong. I found the good ones to be quite good. So, I'm glad I finally powered through and forced myself to understand The Dream Songs; that being said, it is a tedious struggle and it takes getting used to. And there's that blackface--ACK! But it's worth the effort of study for any poet. And it is very admirable in the realm of epic poetry.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Austin Allen

    My view of the Dream Songs is the same as just about everyone's: a few are brilliant, many are very good, the rest are daring but failed experiments. The songs in the second collection (His Toy, His Dream, His Rest) are both more numerous and less successful than those in the first, but I don't agree with the high-handed critical line (see Donald Hall & co.) that they shouldn't have been written at all. They remain more playful and passionate than the poetry of earlier Berryman phases, and the s My view of the Dream Songs is the same as just about everyone's: a few are brilliant, many are very good, the rest are daring but failed experiments. The songs in the second collection (His Toy, His Dream, His Rest) are both more numerous and less successful than those in the first, but I don't agree with the high-handed critical line (see Donald Hall & co.) that they shouldn't have been written at all. They remain more playful and passionate than the poetry of earlier Berryman phases, and the style remains totally his own, so why shouldn't he have kept mining the same vein? The uneven quality of the Songs makes the best ones easy to pluck out and anthologize; anyone interested in Berryman knows #1 ("Huffy Henry hid the day"), #4 ("Filling her compact & delicious body"), #5 ("Henry sats in de bar & was odd"), #14 ("Life, friends, is boring"), the great #29 ("There sat down, once, a thing on Henry's heart"), and #324, the elegy for William Carlos Williams. But there are many other gems as well, including one of my favorites, #19, which mutates effortlessly from another lament for Berryman's lost manhood into some of the most mordant lines of political verse ever written: Collect in the cold depths barracuda. Ay, in Sealdah Station some possessionless children survive to die. The Chinese communes hum. Two daiquiris withdrew into a corner of the gorgeous room and one told the other a lie.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I sought this poetry out after reading Eileen Simpson's excellent memoire, Poets In Their Youth (one of Simpson's hopes for her book was to get us to do just that). I only made it through the first 83 of the combined 385 Dream Songs; I will return to the rest after a break. Berryman uses several voices in these poems, and messes with traditional grammar and vocabulary in the name of language play to uncover new potential for communicating hard-to-get-at emotions and ideas. I needed a break becau I sought this poetry out after reading Eileen Simpson's excellent memoire, Poets In Their Youth (one of Simpson's hopes for her book was to get us to do just that). I only made it through the first 83 of the combined 385 Dream Songs; I will return to the rest after a break. Berryman uses several voices in these poems, and messes with traditional grammar and vocabulary in the name of language play to uncover new potential for communicating hard-to-get-at emotions and ideas. I needed a break because I find Berryman's work to essentially reveal a world-weary, at times cynical, sadness that is hard to embrace. Hard, because I see his style and voice as a function more of his alcoholism than a deeper investigation of that sadness. I try to put it in the context of the times: late 40s and 50s New York intellectuals struggling with the madness as best they could, with the tools they had (including booze), and trying to find their own generational voice (for poets, in the wake of the early modernist turn--e.g., Pound, Eliot and the Imagists). Interesting to contrast this with the Beats who followed later in the 50s, some succumbing to the same demons (Kerouac with alcohol), others finding new tools and demons to overcome (Ginsberg with psychedelics and New Age spiritualism, Snyder with Buddhism).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    There are 385 poems in this edition, which includes work previously published in both "77 Dream Songs" and "His Toy, His Dream, His Rest". Berryman won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for these books. To be honest, this book of poems seems to me TOO monstrous and dense and while there are many notable lines contained within all of the songs, I would not read this again (as I frequently do with other poetry books). If you want to get just a taste of Berryman, I recommend the f There are 385 poems in this edition, which includes work previously published in both "77 Dream Songs" and "His Toy, His Dream, His Rest". Berryman won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for these books. To be honest, this book of poems seems to me TOO monstrous and dense and while there are many notable lines contained within all of the songs, I would not read this again (as I frequently do with other poetry books). If you want to get just a taste of Berryman, I recommend the following songs: #14 #28 Snow Line #61 #89 Op. opsth. no. 12 #105 #123 #140 #147 #149 #151 #153 #155 #171 #224 Eighty #239 #256 #263 #287 #294 #312 #331 #340 #344 Herbert Park, Dublin #385

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I had not read John Berryman for many years. But since it is his centennial year, I thought I would revisit these dark poems. I had forgotten how intense they were. In his earlier work "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet," he has Bradstreet say to her husband, if you don't want to feel my pain, you should neglect me. I think the same goes for these poems. If you don't want to feel the despair of Berryman's dark world, you should leave them alone. I had not read John Berryman for many years. But since it is his centennial year, I thought I would revisit these dark poems. I had forgotten how intense they were. In his earlier work "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet," he has Bradstreet say to her husband, if you don't want to feel my pain, you should neglect me. I think the same goes for these poems. If you don't want to feel the despair of Berryman's dark world, you should leave them alone.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ryder Collins

    fuck yeah, berryman. fuck yeah.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Bertolero

    Yeah this was, ummmm..... very much not my thing.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Austin Farrell

    "These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand/ They are only meant to terrify & comfort." This is what Berryman writes in Dream Song #366 and is referred to in many reviews of his magnum opus. Throughout the Dream Songs, the reader becomes a slave to Berryman's twisted world, punctuated by a range of dialectic registers, elegies to fellow authors (notably Delmore Schwartz which His Toy, His Dream, His Rest is dedicated to "the sacred memory of"), the alienated adventures of his prot "These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand/ They are only meant to terrify & comfort." This is what Berryman writes in Dream Song #366 and is referred to in many reviews of his magnum opus. Throughout the Dream Songs, the reader becomes a slave to Berryman's twisted world, punctuated by a range of dialectic registers, elegies to fellow authors (notably Delmore Schwartz which His Toy, His Dream, His Rest is dedicated to "the sacred memory of"), the alienated adventures of his protagonist Henry, and bouts of sorrow and anger towards his late father whose suicide Berryman witnessed at the age of 10. There are even dream songs that pre-meditate Berryman's own suicide. Despite the depression fueled tone of his work, there is plenty humor dosed throughout the work such as his use of colloquialisms and expressions of love such as in Dream Song #4 where he imagines dropping to a lady's feet in a restaurant, accompanied by her husband and friends, to declare "You are the hottest one for years of night/ Henry's dazed eyes/ have enjoyed, Brilliance." The world of the Dream Songs is the world of reality interloped with our desires that cannot be fulfilled, spiralling the Henrys of the world with confusion and frustration. People have criticized this work for its use of the minstrel show device in which Henry's unnamed companion speaks to him in an African American dialect. I believe its incorporation into the work to be more representational of the world we find ourselves in, a world of cruelty and ostracization by a dominant and widespread culture. However, I don't say this to defend the work and it is still a problematic instance among its subject. In terms of poetry craft, Berryman has achieved a form and work that is uniquely his and what I believe to be a masterwork of poetry of the last century, along with other juggernauts such as Williams' Paterson, Olson's Maximus Poems, and Crane's The Bridge (none of which I've read at the time of this review, but intend to; I don't include The Wasteland because I despise Eliot's poetics). The Dream Songs take the attributes of a technical genius and a drunken buffoon, and like two panels of stained glass, shatters and rearranges them on the page to create some of the most radical poetry that is still steeped in its tradition. For anybody interested in the art of sequential poetry as well as instances of the long poem, this should be among your selections.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Descending Angel

    Dream Song 14: Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so. After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns, we ourselves flash and yearn, and moreover my mother told me as a boy (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored means you have no Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored. Peoples bore me, literature bores me, especially great literature, Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes as bad as achilles, who loves people and valiant art, which bores me Dream Song 14: Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so. After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns, we ourselves flash and yearn, and moreover my mother told me as a boy (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored means you have no Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored. Peoples bore me, literature bores me, especially great literature, Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes as bad as achilles, who loves people and valiant art, which bores me. And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag and somehow a dog has taken itself & its tail considerably away into mountains or sea or sky, leaving behind: me, wag. Berryman's dream songs are both strange and unique. Reading them are quite the experience. They can be funny and witty and sad and very moving, take dream song 234 for example which is about Ernest Hemingway and berryman's father ending their own lifes and of course berryman went on to do the same thing, truly tragic.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tristan

    The Dream Songs was an unusual and shifting work. Unfortunately, part of the shifting is that it varies in quality fairly substantially throughout the book. I found most of the Songs to be somewhat lackluster, although there were a few that I particularly enjoyed, especially Songs 14, 22, 23, and 207 (these were not the only ones I liked, but they were my favorites). The Songs tell the story of Henry, a man who is similar to, but not the same as, Berryman himself, and Henry narrates the bulk of The Dream Songs was an unusual and shifting work. Unfortunately, part of the shifting is that it varies in quality fairly substantially throughout the book. I found most of the Songs to be somewhat lackluster, although there were a few that I particularly enjoyed, especially Songs 14, 22, 23, and 207 (these were not the only ones I liked, but they were my favorites). The Songs tell the story of Henry, a man who is similar to, but not the same as, Berryman himself, and Henry narrates the bulk of the work, slipping back and forth between first- and third-person narration. Henry is self-involved, although not entirely uninteresting. The Songs, generally speaking, straddled the line between mysticism and biographical narrative and were at their strongest when the narrative was most immediate and where there was elusiveness and sideways approach, like song 207: "--How are you? --Fine, fine. (I have tears unshed. / There is here near the bottom of my chest / a loop of cold on the right." and later in that Song, "How are you? / (Music comes painful as a happy look / to a system nearing an end // or an empty question slides to a standstill." Or in song 23, "Here's to the glory of the Great White--awk-- / who has been running--er--er--things in recent--ech-- / in the United--if your screen is black,". The rest of the work was confusing, lacking the force and power to make me believe that it would be anywhere worth my while to try and dissect the mystical ramblings of Henry/of Berryman/of the poem, however one chooses to think about the source of said elements. I cannot totally condemn the work, as it did have some wise and interesting and lyrical moments, but on the whole I found it to be less than compelling and somewhat lacking in virtuosity.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Giffi

    Mr. Berryman is one of my favorite poets. His language is subtle and his control is impeccable. What appeals most to me is how bizarre it is. Berryman has created three distinct voices: the speaker (mostly autobiographical), Henry, and Mr. Bones. The songs themselves muse on topic such as lust, boredom, beauty, etc. The poems can be hard to get into individually, however, read Dream Song No. 4 aloud and then tell me you don't want to read more. It probably won't happen. Mr. Berryman is one of my favorite poets. His language is subtle and his control is impeccable. What appeals most to me is how bizarre it is. Berryman has created three distinct voices: the speaker (mostly autobiographical), Henry, and Mr. Bones. The songs themselves muse on topic such as lust, boredom, beauty, etc. The poems can be hard to get into individually, however, read Dream Song No. 4 aloud and then tell me you don't want to read more. It probably won't happen.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    Lyrical but stark style. I categorically dislike confessional poetry for the most part, but Berryman is an exception; the heavy suicide themes in particular are really well-done, and arresting considering his biography. A stellar crack at the "novel in verse" form, something that I've always been skeptical about. I feel like Henry most days, really. Lyrical but stark style. I categorically dislike confessional poetry for the most part, but Berryman is an exception; the heavy suicide themes in particular are really well-done, and arresting considering his biography. A stellar crack at the "novel in verse" form, something that I've always been skeptical about. I feel like Henry most days, really.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dave H

    "...Some hang heavy on the sauce, some invest in the past, one hides in the land." Considering the despair I can't say it was the most pleasant; it is perhaps, bottom to top, the most moving and memmorable book of poetry I have encountered. "These songs are not meant to be understood, you understand. They are only meant to terrify & comfort." "...Some hang heavy on the sauce, some invest in the past, one hides in the land." Considering the despair I can't say it was the most pleasant; it is perhaps, bottom to top, the most moving and memmorable book of poetry I have encountered. "These songs are not meant to be understood, you understand. They are only meant to terrify & comfort."

  29. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    I don't know how many times I've read this. Several. Every once in a while I have to visit. And now 5 years later rereading it again. Somebody I read recently said they have to reread works occasionally to see what's occurred between herself and the works themselves. I don't know how many times I've read this. Several. Every once in a while I have to visit. And now 5 years later rereading it again. Somebody I read recently said they have to reread works occasionally to see what's occurred between herself and the works themselves.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Steven Felicelli

    just reread it and downgraded to 4 stars (almost went down to three) - it's pretty dated, with all the ephemeral political stuff and it's not as wild as I remember - still a good read, but the older me isn't as taken with it (which may have more to do with the older me than it) just reread it and downgraded to 4 stars (almost went down to three) - it's pretty dated, with all the ephemeral political stuff and it's not as wild as I remember - still a good read, but the older me isn't as taken with it (which may have more to do with the older me than it)

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