by John Berryman
Of opening hopes and happenings. Strange to be
One’s name no longer. Not caught up, not free.
Strange, not to wish one’s wishes onward. Strange,
The looseness, slopping, time and space estrange.
Strangest, and sad as a blind child, not to see
Ever you, never to hear you, endlessly
Neither you there, nor coming.. Heavy change!—
When Oedipus must understand: his head—
When Oedipus believes—tilts like a wave,
And will not break, only iov iov
Wells from his dreadful mouth, the love he led:
Prolong to Procyon this. This begins my grave.
There was a time this summer when it felt like I was surrounded by death. The death of my uncle, the death of pets, the death of friends, the death of young men. A friend of a friend’s son committed suicide in July by jumping off the same bridge that John Berryman jumped to his death on the University of Minnesota campus. I walked across that bridge countless times as an undergraduate. I am thankful that jumping off it never crossed my mind.
Suicide can be contagious. Berryman’s father shot himself outside his window when Berryman was 12. A cruelty that only the most mentally ill can not fathom. Berryman’s life was never the same.
It’s a bit strange I haven’t shared on this blog a Berryman sonnet sooner, given the body of sonnets that make up a size able portion of his work and the fact that he spent most of his career in Minnesota. It’s not that I don’t like Berryman. I worry I might get lost in him, so I take his writing in measured doses. I can only read sadness for so long, before I need to recharge with something else.
It is curious that the sonnet form often oozes with sadness, regardless of the poet. Is it because the poet and reader both know it will come to an end shortly? A sonnet’s canvas is stark and brief. In brevity there is rarely joy, for joy takes a bit of momentum to get rolling and then it rings like a bell, sustained, thrumming into the future.
I too have played with the difference between fare well and farewell in my writing. It has expanded my understanding of what each means, at least to me. For a writer so caught in the web of his own misery, I am pleased that Berryman choose Fare Well for his title. There is one line in the poem below that gut shots me every time – Where warm will warm be warm enough to part…. Us!
Fare well and be well! Don’t sink, like Berryman, keep swimming, even when the warm is warm enough to part.
P. S. – Canorous means melodious and resonant, like joy.
by John Berryman
Motions of waking trouble winter air,
I wonder, and his face as it were forms
Solemn, canorous, under the howled alarms, –
The eyes shadowed and shut.
Certainly for this sort of thing it is very late,
I shudder, while my love longs and I pour
My bright eyes towards the moving shadow . . where?
Out, like a plucked gut.
What has been taken away will not return,
I take it, whether on the crouch of night
Or for my mountain’s need to share a morning’s light, –
No, I am alone.
What has been taken away should not have been shown
I complain, torturing, and then withdrawn.
After so long, can I still long so and burn
O easy the phoenix in the tree of the heart,
Each in its time, his twigs and spices fixes,
To make a last nest, and marvelously relaxes, –
Out of the fire, weak peep! . .
Father, I fought for mother, sleep where you sleep.
I slip into a snowbed with no hurt
Where warm will warm be warm enough to part
Us. As I sink, I weep.