on 19 September 2010
Readers coming to this book would presumably have read Berryman's 77 Dream Songs. Here are more of the same. The sonnets, being the thinking process of a rather unhappy character called Henry, are communicative, but opaque. If you like your poetry clear and fully comprehensible, like Harrison or Larkin, these poems are probably not for you. Here's an example from 117:
Disturbed, when Henry's love returned with a hubby,-
I see that, Henry, I don't put that down,-
he thought he had to think
or with a razor like a skating-rink
have more to say or more to them downtown
in the Christmas season, like a hobby.
Now, personally, I don't understand that, whilst at the same time I do. Or I thought that I think I do. But it's lovely to read, and Berryman's poems are lyrical and beautiful, in the way of Eliot's Four Quartets, or Swinburne, for example. I don't read so much poetry, but if and when I do, this is what I want.
There's a famous - apocryphal? - story about Berryman asking 'who's number one?' after Frost died. Berryman was better than Frost and the best since Eliot, in my opinion. This is a lovely book of poetry and being able to dip into a full collection of Dream Songs helps make sense of the whole better than looking at the random few contained in certain Berryman selected poetry books.
As this book is out of print, you will pay a bit more for the American hardback, but its well worth it. My Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968, is a lovely edition.