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The Dream Songs Paperback – 17 Apr 2007


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Product details

  • Paperback: 427 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (17 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374530661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374530662
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.1 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 342,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Praise for John Berryman [The Dream Songs are] one of the most audacious (and intimidating) achievements in 20th century American poetry . . . Very few are bold enough to try a feat similar to Berryman's today, and even fewer have actually succeeded in writing poetry that transcends the artless solipsism of workshop verse. In that rarefied latter category belong Patricia Lockwood and Michael Robbins, both of whom are young and profane and unafraid. Their forefather is Berryman, who in Mistress Bradstreet writes from the voice of a 17th century poetess . . . who knows that if you're not writing about longing and dying, you might as well be composing infomercial jingles . . . [Berryman's] is a poetry of anxiety and attention deficit, as earnest as an episode of Glee, as revealingly scattered as the tabs left open on your browser. It is also surprisingly political for a poet who effortlessly channels Sir Thomas Wyatt's lyrical seductions, a poet who often seemed lost in the dim labyrinths of his own mind. Berryman was weirdly attuned to the chaos of the Cold War . . . It can, indeed, be as furious as Charlie Parker bebop, full of what Berryman himself called 'sad wild riffs.' . . . Reading Berryman is a reminder that poetry is sound, that it should be enjoyed as music, not words alone . . . The best thing one can do for Berryman today is to forget him and to remember his poems. --Alex Nazaryan, Newsweek Praise for The Dream Songs I'd be shucking my obligation not to . . . make a renewed case for 'The Dream Songs.' It's a book that collects Berryman's original 77 dream songs and adds the further 308 he later wrote. This new edition includes a fond, funny and brilliant introduction by the poet and translator Michael Hofmann. Here is Berryman's masterpiece, one of those books of American poetry that, like certain mountains, has its own weather. Berryman found his form in these songs. They are serious, ambitious and elastic arrangements he could put everything into, high culture and low, Shakespeare as well as the blues, strong religious feeling as well as low impulses of every variety. --Dwight Garner, The New York Times. The character of Henry [the hero of The Dream Songs] is a permanent addition to our literature. --James Schevill A major achievement . . . [Berryman] has written an elegy on his brilliant generation and, in the process, he has also written an elegy on himself. --A. Alvarez, The Observer --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Berryman (1914-72) was born John Smith in McAlester, Oklahoma, and educated at Colombia College and Cambridge University. He later held posts at Harvard and Princeton, before taking up a professorship at the University of Minnesota.He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for 77 Dream Songs, and he continued to build upon this series of poems, publishing the end result, The Dream Songs, in 1969. His Collected Poems was published after his death in 1991. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By disturbedchinchilla on 22 Nov. 2008
Format: Paperback
John Berryman's 'Dream Songs' is one of the great idiosyncracies of modern literature. The poem can be seen as the product of a sort of poetic arms race inspired by the monoliths of High Modernism (Eliot's The Wasteland, Pound's Cantos). Berryman and Robert Lowell (friends and rivals) at once tried to match the giganticism and technical experimentation of their ancestors whilst trying to draw poetry back into the realm of the lyric voice.

Berryman was an extraordinarily gifted poetic technician, and there's no doubt that he gave the canon at least two masterpieces ('Homage to Mistress Bradstreet' and 'The Ball Poem'). But whilst I'd wholeheartedly recommend picking up a copy of 'The Dream Songs' and spending a good few weeks plumbing its depths, it is very much a flawed diamond.

The book is probably best understood as a warped sonnet sequence (Berryman had already done this), except where say Shakespeare uses the sonnet form to explore the psychology of love, Berryman attempts to create a complete psychological portrait of a deeply troubled modern man. The Dream Song form creates a kind of woozy, lurching effect - entirely in keeping with Berryman's booze-derived phantasmagoria.

Berryman was adamant that 'Henry' (the main character of the poem, variously voiced as a black-face minstrel, a Romantic bard, a sheep etc) was definitely NOT him, even though most of the facts of the poem correspond to events in Berryman's life - most noticably in Henry's obsession with his father's suicide, his alcoholism, adultery, and his grief at the deaths of Delmore Schwartz, Ezra Pound and others. It's a tragic irony that 'The Dream Songs' documents a downward spiral of a poetry feeding 'madness and booze' and 'madness and booze' feeding poetry.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Graham Chapman on 19 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
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.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 22 July 2004
Format: Paperback
"The Dream Songs" is a heady and often dense book of poetry that should be read as a continuous poem. Berryman shapes and twists the language using acerbic wit and sharp intellect to bruise the reader's mind. The poem can occasionally appear heavy handed in its indiscriminate use of seemingly autobiographical details. Henry, the protagonist of the poem is Berryman's creation, and while they share certain details of Berryman's life, the reader should not confuse the two. Berryman's Joycean like flair and irreverant take on language combined with his hallucinogenic style make this work original and fresh for a new generation of readers. The age old issues such as theodicy are combined with Freudian dictum, and Berryman can appear a John Donne for the twenty first century. "The Dream Songs" is a necessity for any well-rounded poetry collection.
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By R SMITH on 8 Mar. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Arrived in good time and it's a book I value. Very reasonable price.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 29 reviews
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Curses John Berryman 29 July 2003
By J. Ott - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Curse you John Berryman! You have ruined my ear for other poets. THE DREAM SONGS is one of those award-winning modern epics you wonder why you are reading until near the end, when you realize that you have slipped completely into the author's syntaxes, thoughts and, yes, dreams.
Don't let Berryman in his forward tell you different: this book is baldly autobiographical. Berryman dubbed himself Henry, gave a voice to his traumatized psyche (Mr. Bones) and set them talking, unraveling a lifetime of scholarship mixed with pain.
If you have read about Berryman, you will see him instantly in THE DREAM SONGS. Yet, unlike Robert Lowell, Berryman doesn't assume a familiarity with his biography that verges on solipsism. It is enough to know his father killed himself, Berryman killed himself, Berryman had affairs, was an alcoholic, was married several times and that he dearly loved literature, especially Shakespeare, some of whose Sonnets he parodies.
There is no narrative to the 385 Songs, per se. They come in thematic groups, which are grouped into seven 'books' and, like diary entries, chronicle whatever is on Henry's mind, which is often the untimely deaths other poets, such as Delmore Schwartz and Sylvia Plath. Like most "modern" poetry, THE DREAM SONGS is a tough slog through sentences that may or may not make sense. Except if you read them enough and carefully, they start making sense. It's a magical effect, but not gained without some serious struggle.
The poems themselves are incomparable to anything I've read before. Berryman borrows aspects of African-American English and WCWesque directness. He composes dehydrated, idiosyncratically-punctuated sentences that straddle stanzas of six lines, often rhymed and never predictable in length. Individual lines sometimes break into startling caesuras or hover outside the regular three-of-six form. However inconsisent individually, the poems achieve a perverse (foolish?) consistency overall which, grasped, is that magical concussion I spoke of before. THE DREAM SONGS are nothing if not unique; I highly-recommend them as part of a balanced poetic diet.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
"I can't get him out of my mind, out of my mind / 18 Dec. 1997
By nina@hcs.harvard.edu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
He was out of his own mind for years." The first lines of Dream Song #155 were written about another author but remind me of Berryman himself, whose struggle with depression and alcoholism was lifelong and whose innovative, compressed cadences continue to haunt me-- especially those of these 385 Dream Songs. You can recognize a D.S. straightaway if it revolves around a bumbling character named Henry (sort of a more bitter, more desperate, more adorable Homer Simpson) and/or his part-time interlocutor, Mr. Bones. The D.S.s are also characterized by this odd, oblique syntax (which at different times mimics Black dialect, pedantic jargon, and the flat speech of the mentally unstable). More or less all of them are written in a form I believe J.B. created: three six-line stanzas with an occasional orphan punch line and some irregular, slanted end-rhyme.
With 385 x 18 = almost 7000 lines, this is the book they should have called "100 Years of Solitude"; I've only lived through the first half-century myself. But what keeps me reading is the fact that this drowning man's poems can clutch and so tightly *hold* the greased pig of life, in all its sloppy, despairing, goofy, grandiose, horrified, exultation. Between the bleakness of his free-floating, unremitting guilt ("But never did Henry, as he thought he did, / end anyone and hacks her body up"), and his pathetic and bawdy speculations ("What wonders is / she sitting on, over there?"), our lovable and unloved Henry, "pried / open for all the world to see, survived." Though Berryman himself ultimately lost his own decades-long fight against suicide, stalwart Henry lives on and, as the first Dream Song tells us,
"What he has now to say is a long
wonder the world can bear & be.
Once in a sycamore I was glad
all at the top, and I sang.
Hard on the land wears the strong sea
and empty grows every bed."
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
and God has many other surprises, like... 3 Sept. 2000
By "heatherwild" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
...this book, a masterpiece of syntax and characterization. I first read Berryman's Dream Song 69 over 12 years ago. That poem drew me to this book, which has never left me since then. I have moved to other continents, and this is the one volume I would not think of leaving behind. Even when I have been in the hospital, I am sure to pack "The Dream Songs." I cannot explain why this strange and marvelous book affects me so deeply, but I could not possibly give it any higher praise. Yes, there are lulls. Certainly, there are poems which pale in comparison to others, but the work as a whole is a dazzling accomplishment. No one sounds quite like Berryman: he heaves a word like an axe and in the next stroke caresses the reader with infinite tenderness. Berryman is unique, his conversations unmistakable, and his genius lies in his wit and honesty. No other book-length poem compares to this. Throughout the elegies, the arias, the schizoid self-confidence and despair, Henry emerges a character not easily surpassed in poetry, or in literature at all.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
"Man, I been thirsty." 5 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Man, I been thirsty" -- Berryman's explanation in *The Dream Songs* of why he drank so much for so long. And he was: thirstier, hungrier, lustier, more curious and more ambitious than anyone around him -- and ultimately, too, sadder, lonelier, more tragic. Yes, the later sections are too long and sometimes not inspired enough -- Berryman is, indeed, sometimes boring, though we must not say so. But when he's sharp, it's as a whip, and when he's hot, it's as an iron: nobody flashes and yearns like this "brain from hell." The first and last Dream Songs (1 and 385) are among the sweetest, saddest poems I know; # 14 is perhaps the most true; and # 4 is, quite possibly, the greatest poem about lust in the English language. Feast, and enjoy!
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
These poems cannot be housebroken. 25 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"The Dream Songs" are Berryman's attempt through Henry (his seemingly ubiquitous, sometimes-accessible, sometimes-frightening & alone character) to resolve & look beyond, under, in between the chaotic litany that was his life. Although Henry & Berryman are of course not interchangeable ("Not the poet, not me," warns J.B.), Henry is usually Berryman in masquerade slipping in & out of situations, often at the fringes---except when lustful or pursued or mourning, which is often. Henry is a grotesque, & a sad one. Later in "The Dream Songs," Henry is even less relied upon. The poems are spoken as dank, mordant confessionals w/ Henry's voice & presence somewhat obscured by Berryman's own star. Much of the ornamentation (blackface gibes, vaudeville talk, extended conversations w/ a pal who addresses Henry as Mr Bones) falls away & a naked, confounded Berryman treads, claws for his own existence. The characters of the Songs are multifarious: from the sinister self-exploration of 67 to the frank lust of 361, to sad, simple Song 1, &c. Couple this plumbing of theme w/ a most unusual cadence & the aggressive, open triple-sextet form which Berryman pioneered, & one has a pleasing synthesis of the regimented & the unruly. These poems can not be housebroken nor mastered. Berryman is a most consistently flawless individualist. His discipline w/ form melded w/ sometimes roughshod language yields an incredibly pleasing, somewhat effervescent effect. These are poems of necessity & importance, for Berryman (whom they could not save) & Henry who "is a long wonder the world can bear & be."
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