The World Is Lunatic

Cambridge 1936.

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

John Berryman

Dream Song 147

by John Berryman

Henry’s mind grew blacker the more he thought.
He looked onto the world like the act of a aged whore.
Delmore, Delmore.
He flung to pieces and they hit the floor.
Nothing was true but what Marcus Aurelius taught,
‘All that is foul smell & blood in a bag.’

He lookt on the world like the leavings of a hag.
Almost his love died from him, any more.
His mother & William
were vivid in the same mail Delmore died.
The world is lunatic.  This is the last ride.
Delmore, Delmore.

High in the summer branches the poet sang.
His throat ached, and he could sing no more.
All ears closed
across the heights were Delmore & Gertrude sprang
so long ago, in the goodness of which it was composed.
Delmore, Delmore!


Berryman beginnings at Cambridge were weighed down by loneliness and lack of direction.  He did not at first enjoy the academics of Cambridge and he was struggling to make friends.   He wrote to his mentor Van Doren for advice.  Van Doren wrote back that many of the previous Cambridge scholars had taken a little time to settle in and to not be alarmed.  Van Doren’s advice was spot on.   Within several months Berryman would meet or hear them speak at Cambridge a list of poets that looking back is remarkable.   Berryman would come across either by chance or through lectures at Cambridge the following: Auden, T. S. Eliott, Yeats and Dylan Thomas.   In the case of Yeats after several months at Cambridge he wrote to him, included a poem and to his surprise Yeats wrote back.   Berryman eventually worked up his courage to buy a night ferry passage to Dublin and went and visited Yeats spur of the moment.   The two spent an afternoon together at Yeat’s home where Berryman was inspired in the presence of one of the great living poets of his time.

Berryman also maintained friendships from his Columbia days with Alan Tate and Bhain Campbell.  Campbell would die at age 29 of cancer shortly after Berryman returned from Cambridge, a blow that would unbalance Berryman.   He would help to edit and publish a small volume of Campbell’s completed work early in his career.  Berryman would befriend Schwartz in New York when he returned from Cambridge. It is a remarkable circle of literary friendships that Berryman developed, many of whose own work far overshadowed his own, then and now.   However, those connections would inspire him to work harder towards his goal of eventual success as a poet.  Berryman had a vision and a literary passion that rubbed off on others who were equally passionate about poetry.

Berryman of course fell in love while he was in Cambridge.   I am not going to go into detail because if I chronicled every time he fell in love that is all I would write about.  Most of his sexual conquests were short lived and its complicated enough covering all eventual nuptials, but in reading multiple biographies I got the impression that Beatrice/Beryl was the first of his real true loves.  Even though it did not translate into a long term relationship, it set the stage for a more nuanced and tortured experience of love for the rest of his life.

Auden wrote the following poem in 1936, the same year that Berryman met him in Cambridge.   It was written as a song in a play and set to music, eventually performed in Cabaret.  The stage was set for war in Europe and Berryman was experiencing all of the build up to the conflict between Germany and England while at Cambridge.   It also was winding the tension strings of the poets he met living in Europe, heightening the sense of purpose of bringing a poetic resonance to counter the horrors that were to come. 

 

Stop All The Clocks

By W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Their Centre of Volition Shifted

W.H. Auden
W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

Funeral Blues

By W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


XX. The Garden

Final Sonnet in the sonnet sequence The Quest
by W. H. Auden

Within these gates all opening begins:
White shouts and flickers through its green and red,
Where children play at seven earnest sins
And dogs believe their tall conditions dead.

Here adolescence into number breaks
The perfect circle time can draw on stone,
And flesh forgives division as it makes
Another’s moment of consent its own.

All journeys die here: wish and weight are lifted:
Where often round some old maid’s desolation
Roses have flung their glory like a cloak,

The gaunt and great, the famed for conversation
Blushed in the stare of evening as they spoke
And felt their centre of volition shifted.