I have never known quite what to make of John Berryman. He belongs to that confessional school of twentieth-century American poets of whom one sometimes feels that both their lives and their poems might have gone better had they been less interested in themselves and more interested in the world around them. Yet Berryman’s voice, in his persona as the Henry of ‘Dream Songs’, can be memorable and moving, especially, I find, in his elegies for various friends and fellow-poets, such as these lines for Randall Jarrell from ‘Dream Song 90’.
Let Randall rest, whom your self-torturing
cannot restore one instant’s good to, rest:
he’s left us now.
The panic died, and in the panic’s dying
so did my old friend. I am headed west
also, also, somehow.
In the chambers of the end we’ll meet again.
I will say Randall, he’ll say Pussycat
and all will be as before
whenas we sought, among the beloved faces,
eminence and were dissatisfied with that
and needed more.