John Berryman

Comments & Themes


    • What kind of lyrical I unwinds along Berryman's Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1949), and how does it stand in relation to his/her confessional voice?


    • Compare Berryman's "Dream Song 385" to Sexton's "Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman". Each poem addresses a member of the speaker's relatives. Compare the way that 'the other' is represented in these poems, and how a "confessional" voice may apply to them.


    • Analyze and discuss the play of halting rhetoric on rhythm in Berryman's characterizations of insanity.


    • How do compare "Dream Song 1" (77 Dream Songs) and "Dream Song 384" (His Toy, His Dream, His Rest)? How does irony work in both these poems? How are the feelings of anguish or distress codified within these poems? How is the figure of the "father" represented in these poems, and how does it relate to the "Dream Songs" as a poetic sequence?


    • How are represented concepts such as "God", "Body", "History", and "Father", in Berryman His Toy, His Dream, His Rest?


    • What does the image of the sea symbolize in Berryman's Dream Songs? Does the sea have more than one meaning in the sequence? If so, try to mention some of them.


    • How does the confessional voice in Berryman's Recovery match the voices in his poetic sequences? How may "confessional poetry" be defined under the light of Berryman's poetry? Remember that Berryman rejected the expression "confessional poetry".


    • Regarding Berryman's poetry, where is Stephen Crane's influence made most perceptible? Can Berryman's Stephen Crane be considered as a "biographical text"?


    • What does the line "then came a departure" ("Dream Song 1") refer back to? Analyze the complex concept of "dispossession" in Berryman's poetry. How does Berryman's aesthetic of pain and guilt compare to Robert Lowell's?


    • Explain the importance of form in Berryman's 77 Dream Songs. Explain Berryman's creation and design of the stanzaic form. Bear in mind that the form developed in this poetic sequence consisted of three sestet stanzas rhyming "abaaba". The rhymes changed in subsequent stanzas; the third and sixth lines in each stanza were shorter than the rest. Bear in mind too that this is only an approximate description of the form, however, as Berryman left himself considerable leeway.


    • Discuss and provide examples for "semantic deviance", "syntactic deviance", and "grammatical deviance" in Berryman's poetic sequences, such as 77 Dream Songs, His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, or Delusions, Etc.


    • Analyze the processes of facing and defacing concerning the characters of Henry, Mr. Bones, Tambo, and Pussy Cat in Berryman's His Toy, His Dream, His Rest. How do they relate to the lyrical I? How do they relate to Berryman himself? How does voice vary and modulate through these characters? Are they characters?


    • How may be defined Berryman's concept of "selfhood" as developed in the poetic sequence His Toy, His Dream, His Rest?


    • Analyze the concept of "death" in the sub-sequence "Op. Posth" (His Toy, His Dream, His Rest)


    • Analyze the process of mutilation or dismemberment in "Dream Song 8" (77 Dream Songs). How does irony stand in relation to structure in this poem?


    • Compare Berryman's confessional voice to those of Lowell, Snodgrass, Sexton, Plath, Roethke, and Ginsberg.