Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Berryman and Birthdays

Thinking about my recent birthday led me to this poem by John Berryman:

Dream Song 112

My framework is broken, I am coming to an end,
God send it soon. When I had most to say
my tongue clung to the roof
I mean of my mouth. It is my Lady's birthday
which must be honoured, and has been. God send
it soon.

I now must speak to my disciples, west
and east. I say to you, Do not delay
I say, expectation is vain.
I say again, It is my Lady's birthday
which must be honoured. Bring her to the test
at once.

I say again, It is my Lady's birthday
which must be honoured, for her high black hair
but not for that alone:
for every word she utters everywhere
shows her good soul, as true as a healed bone,—
being part of what I meant to say.

John Berryman

Who is the Lady? Perhaps an image of the feminine divine? The poem has a prayer-like quality, given that it includes a plea to God to "send it soon," and a message to the speaker's "disciples." When the speaker says "my framework is broken," it sounds to me like the breakdown of a world view, or a philosphy, or some kind of belief. The speaker enjoins the disciples to honor the "Lady's birthday" and "bring her to the test." Perhaps she will pass a test of truth, as a "good soul" whose words are "as true as a healed bone," and express the speaker's ideas better than he can.


danny said...

To dearest Amy,

Belated Happy Birthday!

The above poem of John Berryman must have been written for his mother whom he loved so deeply.

He wrote a birthday poem when he was 19 years old for his mother, a four Petrarchan sonnets in 1934, an early attraction of the young Berryman to isometric sequence before he wrote his postwar "Dream Songs" in the context of "Freudan lyric".

In relation to the poem and to your birthday, I am qouting one of my 140 haiku collection titled
"The Warring Tribes, The Silent Gods". Of 140 haiku, I wrote 30 haiku for women:

woman in my arms:
your scent, your heartbeat, your song
you’re a mystery...

-haiku 69, portrait of a woman

For me, the birth of a woman is also the birth of humanity...

My best wishes,


Skij Yesh On Domorrow-Walker said...

Happy Birthday, Amy! Thanks for the poem (very mysterious, especially in that she has the capacity for expressing that which the poet himself cannot express... a very complex relationship!)

Robin said...

Hey! Happy Birthday to you, Amy!

Gilbert Koh said...

It seems to be a Berryman characteristic that his poems can be read at many levels.

One way to interpret this poem is that these are the words of a dying man, possibly a martyr of sorts. His body is a temple of God.

"My framework is broken"

... tells you that his physical body is failing,

"I am coming to an end,"

... tells you that he is dying

"God send it soon."

... he prays to God for a quick death.

The use of the word "roof" in this part of the poem:

"When I had most to say
my tongue clung to the roof
I mean of my mouth."

... reinforces the idea that he sees his body as a temple of God, a building which has a roof. It also reflects the idea that he had failed to say what he wanted to say; perhaps stand witness to his faith - an inadequate martyr.

I see clearly that he is referring to the feminine divine - and the mysterious feel to his language simply reflects of the delirium of a dying man:

"It is my Lady's birthday
which must be honoured, and has been. God send
it soon."

Also the choice of simile here

" as true as a healed bone,—"

... suggests that the protagonist is physically injured, and it is only in death, returning to the Divine, that he is going to be healed.

This part:

"being part of what I meant to say."

shows that in his dying moments, he continues to be tortured by what he had failed to say.