Dream Song 324 An Elegy for W. C. W., the lovely man

Another of John Berryman’s quirkily affectionate elegies for fellow American poets (see also week 120), who did seem to predecease him in depressingly large numbers, causing him to wonder in another poem, this time about Sylvia Plath, why he ‘alone breasts the wronging tide’. This one is for William Carlos Williams.

Note: Berryman in these poems used an alter ego Henry.

Dream Song 324 An Elegy for W. C. W., the lovely man

Henry in Ireland to Bill underground:
Rest well, who worked so hard, who made a good sound
constantly, for so many years:
your high-jinks delighted the continents & our ears:
you had so many girls your life was a triumph
and you loved your one wife.

At dawn you rose & wrote–the books poured forth–
you delivered infinite babies, in one great birth–
and your generosity
to juniors made you deeply loved, deeply:
if envy was a Henry trademark, he would envy you,
especially the being through.

Too many journeys lie for him ahead,
too many galleys & page-proofs to be read,
he would like to lie down
in your sweet silence, to whom was not denied
the mysterious late excellence which is the crown
of our trials & our last bride.

John Berryman

Week 120: From ‘Dream Song 90’, by John Berryman

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.

John Berryman