Oct. 25, 2002

Dream Song 324, An Elegy for W.C.W., The Lovely Man

by John Berryman

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Poem: "Dream Song 324, An Elegy for W.C.W., The Lovely Man," by John Berryman from The Dream Songs (Farrau, Straus, and Giroux).

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.

It's the birthday of painter Pablo Picasso, born in Malaga, Spain (1881). He helped create Cubism and was famous for works such as Guernica (1937), The Three Musicians (1921), and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). He said that facility was his greatest enemy: "Sometimes I feel as if I'd like to tie one arm behind my back to make things more difficult for myself."

It's the birthday of American historian Henry Steele Commager, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1902). He wrote the 55-volume Rise of the American Nation.

It's the birthday of Harold Brodkey, born Aaron Roy Weintraub, in Staunton, Illinois (1930). He was a short story writer and essayist for The New Yorker. He wrote A Party of Animals and The Runaway Soul.

It's the birthday of novelist Anne Tyler, born in Minneapolis (1941). Her most well-known novels include Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, and Breathing Lessons. She was a published author, her career well-established, and one day she went to the schoolyard to pick up her child, and another mother came up to her and said, "Have you found work yet? Or are you still just writing?"

It's the birthday of American poet and critic John Berryman, born in McAlester, Oklahoma (1914). His most famous work was The Dream Songs (1964), which won a Pulitzer Prize. The Dream Songs was a sequence of 385 songs in sonnet-like rhyming form. When John was twelve, his father ran away with a mistress for a while, but came back one night to sort things out with his wife, hoping to reconcile their marriage. Before the night was over, John's father had shot himself in the chest in the backyard with a .32 pistol. John was haunted by this for the rest of his life, and eventually ended his own life as well, by jumping off of the Washington Street Bridge in Minneapolis in 1972. At his eighth grade graduation he was voted "Most Studious Boy," and he looked the part. He was still under five feet, had a wiry frame, and wore glasses. Pictures of him that day show an awkward boy with hair parted on the left and plastered down. According to Berryman, people who want to write should not take so-called Creative Writing courses. If they were going to write, they would write. It would be better to study "history or language or mathematics." He said, ""When one thinks reluctantly over the lives of writers with whom one is familiar, they seem a chain of disasters and maladies. But the artist is extremely lucky who is presented with a worse possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he's in business."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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