Monday, September 6, 2010

John Berryman

John Berryman (1914–1972) was raised in the Catholic church, but had abandoned it. Throughout his life he suffered from alcoholism and depression; the suicide of his father, when Berryman was eleven years old, also haunted him throughout his life.

His early poems show the influences of Auden, Yeats and Hopkins. In 1964 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his innovative collection 77 Dream Songs — which demonstrated his originality and established his reputation.

During 1969 and 1970 he checked himself in for rehab several times, and soon had also embraced Christianity. Even in his faith statement Eleven Addresses to the Lord — which concludes his book Love & Fame (1970) — he questions more than he acknowledges.

On New Years’ Eve 1971 he celebrated eleven months alcohol free, but his emotional instability caught up with him a week later; he jumped to his death from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.

from Eleven Addresses to the Lord

10


Fearful I peer upon the mountain path
where once Your shadow passed, Limner of the clouds
up their phantastic guesses. I am afraid,
I never until now confessed.

I fell back in love with you, Father, for two reasons:
You were good to me, & a delicious author,
rational & passionate. Come on me again,
as twice you came to Azarias & Misael.

President of the brethren, our mild assemblies
inspire, & bother the priest not to be dull;
keep us week-long in order; love my children,
my mother far & ill, far brother, my spouse.

Oil all my turbulence as at Thy dictation
I sweat out my wayward works.
Father Hopkins said the only true literary critic is Christ.
Let me lie down exhausted, content with that.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca