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Dream Song 123

July 15, 2013

Dream Song 123

Dapples my floor the eastern sun, my house faces north,
I have nothing to say except that it dapples my floor
and it would dapple me
if I lay on that floor, as-well-forthwith
I have done, trying well to mount a thought
not carelessly

in times forgotten, except by the New York Times
which can’t forget. There is always the morgue.
There are men in the morgue.
These men have access. Sleepless, in position,
they dream the past forever
Colossal in the dawn comes the second light

we do all die, in the floor, in the morgue
and we must die forever, c’est la mort
a heady brilliance
the ultimate gloire
post-mach, probably in underwear
as we met each other once.

–John Berryman 1965

COMMENTARY: Berryman’s Dream Song poems tend to be pretty wild. The rhythms break in odd places; the syntax twirls around; there are pop-ups, jack-in-the-boxes, up-endings of meaning. It’s impossible to read Berryman for some pacifying paraphrasable moral. You just sit down in the bateu ivre and let it bob around.

As the Dream Song poems go, this one’s progression is actually pretty forthright. The poem begins with the speaker describing the sun dappling the floor where he lies and contemplates his mortality. He thinks of the past where the relative permanence of the New York Times (the undying word) contrasts with the flashing impermanence of men who die and go to the morgue. While he worries about the future, these men “dream the past forever” (I love that line). In the final stanza, the speaker’s mediation on death breaks into curt, sharply rhymed declarations. They evoke a strange resignedness: part ironic, part sorrowful. The “I” has become a “we” (the speaker and the dead), and the last line about “as we once met each other” evokes a powerful desire for human connection as a kind of antidote to the morbid preoccupations. It’s as if he’s trying to re-ravel personal connection that death will eventually unravel. 

My favorite line in this poem “Colossal in the dawn comes the second light” which I don’t understand but find powerful. I also like the repetition of “time” and “morgue” in the second stanza. “a heady brilliance/ the ultimate gloire” is also good. The underwear, of course, is haunting.

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