The Dream Songs: Poems
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The Dream Songs: Poems

4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  4,143 ratings  ·  133 reviews

This edition combines The Dream Songs, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1965, and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1969 and contains all 385 songs. Of The Dream Songs, A. Alvarez wrote in The Observer, "A major achievement. He has written an elegy on his brilliant generation and, in the process, he has also written an el

Paperback, 427 pages
Published April 17th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1969)
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Apr 11, 2013 Mariel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the pen & the heart
Recommended to Mariel by: and I know nothing
There sat down, once, a thing on Henry's heart so heavy, if he had a hundred years & more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry's ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

And there is another thing he has in mind
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly,
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;

But never did Harry
mid-way through i wrote:

i am deep into The Dream Songs, John Berryman's book of 385 poems published in 1969, such that i found myself wondering last night whether i can continue to relate to people who haven't read them. this particular effect wore off about an hour after i put the book down, but that's how powerful they are, taken many at a time. the depth of expression and range of emotion is really unlike anything i've ever encountered; he has me grinning wryly one moment and broken hearted t...more

I've been pecking, then rummaging, then gobbling, then feasting, then gagging, then lilting over these poems for the past month or so.

I appreciate it when more erudite people than myself admit that they might easily tag a poetry book with the triumphal term "read" when- alas! world enough and tome!- they haven't actually, literally, sat down and read all of it, as one reads novels or short stories.

Very few poets can really claim this, at least in my reading life, ironically it's rarer than you...more
Oct 12, 2008 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: damaged poetic hearts who trust no simple repair-work
Recommended to John by: a teacher, probably
Here it is Columbus Day weekend, & again I'm setting out in the too-small boats of my brains & sensibility across the turbulence of these DREAM SONGS. Here be monsters. Berryman's singed-earth spiral down to eventual suicide was fueled not so much by his love of alcohol, not nearly, as by his unrelenting alertness to human idiocy, most especially the poet's. He lived & wrote in a midnight which no amount of gin could keep at bay. Nor did it help that the man's attempts to tame his te...more
Apr 30, 2007 Sam rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the undersensitive
Shelves: poetry
I was often confused and frustrated by this book. Berryman was by all accounts a vicious drunk and an entirely unlikable person, and these poems seem to reflect that; there's not much here to make you fall sunny in love with the text in front of you. Still, there are these snatches every two pages or so that keep you reading, and there are some parts that are really lovely. The first part, written in almost entirely free verse, seems more successful than the second, which has a strict meter. The...more
Jim Collins
The aging Professor Berryman was at the top of his career. He lived with a beautiful young woman, he was well respected in the literary community and on the job at the University of Minnesota, and was regarded as one of the era's more -- ahem -- original poets. But if you read "Dream Songs" it might not be too much of a surprise to you that he jumped off Minneapolis's Washington Avenue Bridge to his death in 1972. His poetry --occasionally hilarious, often spooky, always original -- betrays the...more
John Berryman's sweeping anti-epic joins Eliot's "The Wasteland" and Tennyson's "In Memoriam" as one of the greatest poetic series ever crafted. Berryman's influences are as panoramic as the scope of his avatar Henry's transgressions. He draws from Freudian theory and Daddy Rice's Minstrel Shows, from Apocrypha to his father's suicide, from Relativity Theory to the untimely deaths of his fellow poets. Berryman's writing is painful and visceral, ethereal and transcendent, fantasy and disturbingly...more
My view of the Dream Songs is the same as just about everyone's: a few are brilliant, many are very good, the rest are daring but failed experiments. The songs in the second collection (His Toy, His Dream, His Rest) are both more numerous and less successful than those in the first, but I don't agree with the high-handed critical line (see Donald Hall & co.) that they shouldn't have been written at all. They remain more playful and passionate than the poetry of earlier Berryman phases, and t...more
Apr 28, 2012 Anne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
I have had this book on my shelf for nearly six years. People always link Berryman to Plath, Sexton, and Lowell, so I kept continually thinking I should read this book, as I love those writers. However, every time I opened it, I felt lost in a dark, tangled woods. I just could NOT understand these poems! I would give up, put it back.

Now, with a Master's in poetry under my belt, I said to myself, I am going to conquer these poems!! I must!!

It's not easy. I grappled with them for about a hundred...more
Mike Lindgren
My relationship with John Berryman’s Dream Songs, like the songs themselves, is murky, complicated, obscure in origin, and not easy to explain—not even to myself. One signpost of great art, it seems to me, is that the meaning of its greatness shifts in relation to the reader over time, and my appreciation of The Dream Songs has deepened and evolved—as I expect it will continue to for the rest of my life—in the two decades since it first came to my attention.

In my twenties I knew that Berryman wa...more
I had not read John Berryman for many years. But since it is his centennial year, I thought I would revisit these dark poems. I had forgotten how intense they were. In his earlier work "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet," he has Bradstreet say to her husband, if you don't want to feel my pain, you should neglect me. I think the same goes for these poems. If you don't want to feel the despair of Berryman's dark world, you should leave them alone.
Joe Hunt
I had to read these in Poetry School.

Almost everything else there I liked--but not these. I just didn't get it.

Pretty hard to read. Just not very fun.

(I know they're not meant for fun. Still...)

Somehow, nothing to pull you in. Just kind of grating, off-putting.

Also...You ever read "Cat's Cradle" ?

How they say "No damned cat. No damned cradle."

I thought that here.

Where's the dreams? Where's the song?

(And I've even heard some good explanations, too--about this stuff.)

That Dreamsongs from some anci...more
Amanda Giffi
Mr. Berryman is one of my favorite poets. His language is subtle and his control is impeccable. What appeals most to me is how bizarre it is. Berryman has created three distinct voices: the speaker (mostly autobiographical), Henry, and Mr. Bones. The songs themselves muse on topic such as lust, boredom, beauty, etc. The poems can be hard to get into individually, however, read Dream Song No. 4 aloud and then tell me you don't want to read more. It probably won't happen.
Lyrical but stark style. I categorically dislike confessional poetry for the most part, but Berryman is an exception; the heavy suicide themes in particular are really well-done, and arresting considering his biography. A stellar crack at the "novel in verse" form, something that I've always been skeptical about. I feel like Henry most days, really.
Gabriel Oak
I first read 77 Dream Songs for my grad school qualifying exams, and while I liked them, I also found them bewildering. Reading the complete sequence (385 songs) all together helped the voice and vision of the poems cohere for me better. The songs are short poems, usually three stanzas of six lines each, almost approaching the density and precision of sonnets, except that Berryman mixes up his meter and rhyme schemes.

The narrator of the poems is Henry, who sometimes carries on a dialogue with a...more
Patrice Miller
Berryman remains an under-read poet of the confessional school (which he is and isn't part of), and few things baffle me more about higher education. How can you understand 20th century American culture without reading Berryman? Undoubtedly his opus, The Dream Songs, are a bleak and challenging read. Poems with reoccurring characters, including the exquisitely haunting Mr. Bones, Berryman uses voices and devices drawn from late vaudeville (Mr. Bones) and jazz, calling to mind the performative na...more
Leonard Makin

Had in my mind, always, that John Berryman leapt to his death from a bridge. It coloured
my thoughts as I read each poem. Found many of the poems very difficult to understand,
obscure in the same way that I found with Hart Crane's work, and then suddenly, as in Crane, a
poem which is accessible and very poignant and meaningful and simple.

Because The Dream Songs are regarded as this century's Leaves of Grass felt that I
owed it to myself to read all 385 poems - now feel impelled to, say, read...more
Rob the Obscure
This collection of poetry, for anyone who knows modern poetry, needs no review. Suffice it to say, that he was one of the most original poets of the 20th century. It shouldn't be missed.
Ryder Collins
fuck yeah, berryman. fuck yeah.
Feb 26, 2013 Robin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: owned
If there's one thing I love about poetry, it's when it can manage to be both lyrical and stark, both flourished but reserved. John Berryman's anti-epic poetry is just that exactly. He encompasses so much in so few words, but you know that each word is taken with as much reverence as any other. It is such a work of art.

He manages to cover so many topics in this massive collection of dream songs - "narrated" by Henry, who is a mirror of Berryman - a Berryman who could have been but wasn't (Plus M...more
There are 385 poems in this edition, which includes work previously published in both "77 Dream Songs" and "His Toy, His Dream, His Rest". Berryman won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for these books. To be honest, this book of poems seems to me TOO monstrous and dense and while there are many notable lines contained within all of the songs, I would not read this again (as I frequently do with other poetry books).

If you want to get just a taste of Berryman, I recommend the f...more
David S.
"These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand.
They are only meant to terrify & comfort."

385 blank verse sonnets with random end-rhyme patterns that are sometimes drunken, frustrated, lunatic ravings and babbling that cover a crazy amount of topics including academia, sex, suicides, travel, ambition, pride, loneliness, death, poets, and poetry. At first, it all seems inapprehensible, but as you read it more and more, it just starts to seep in through the unconscious parts of yo...more
Geof Huth
I have finished reading John Berryman's book "The Dream Songs," though more dream songs inhabit the rubble of his books and papers. In some ways, this took me more than a generation. In reality, it took a few months of occasional reading, bursts like creativity.

The book is problematic for me, containing some of my favorite poems by any poet, demonstrating a steady ear, clearly a innovative work of art, yet filled with poems that I could not care a whit about. The best (my favorite) of the songs...more
Chuck Young
just let it wash over me. white noise in my head. hoping for some sort of word-osmosis.
“These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand.
They are only meant to terrify and comfort.”
As one of the first long poems that I have read, I thought it was excellent. I guess I was expecting something very abstract, but this was a little more concrete than I expected and I consider that a good thing. It has been described as a "dream diary". I certainly think it is a diary, but I think this term is a little misleading. To me, it was a life diary that emphasizes the similarities that real life and dreams can share. The identity of the narrator keeps you unbalanced while the protagonis...more
Kirsten Vela
It was ok. I think Sylvia Plath's poems still affects me.
The original collection is dark and delicious and beautiful, the only positive thing to say about the "added" collection as a whole is that it makes you appreciate the original collection even more.
This book is a great read!
Matt St. Amand
I have been reading John Berryman's virtually impenetrable poem 77 Dream Songs since the early 90s. I've gotten back into them recently after acquiring a recording from 1963 of Berryman reading a selection of the as-yet-to-be-published poem (at that time). Hearing his interpretation and brief explanations of some of the sections of the poem have provided me the barest glimmer of insight into this brilliant and mostly opaque work. But that glimmer of insight has been enough to wholly renew my lov...more
Beautiful, terrifying, funny, almost unbearably sad. Berryman once replied to the complaint that the poems are sometimes obscure by saying of “Henry,” the speaker/protagonist (not himself, he insisted) — “He’s SLEEPING!” A fair point. As is often the case, for me anyway, it helps enormously to hear Berryman recite these poems, as opposed to just reading them cold off the page. See, for example, #29 — alluding, as many do, to JB’s father’s suicide (“a thing so heavy”):
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  • Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
  • Life Studies and For the Union Dead
  • Above the River: The Complete Poems
  • The Maximus Poems
  • Steal Away: Selected and New Poems
  • The Tunnel: Selected Poems
  • Elegy
  • The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara
  • The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994
  • The Collected Poems
  • The Sonnets
  • The Complete Poems
  • The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You
  • The Great Fires
  • Paterson
  • The Collected Poems, 1945-1975
  • The Collected Poems
  • Praise
John Allyn Berryman (originally John Allyn Smith) was an American poet, born in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and often considered one of the founders of the Confessional school of poetry. He was the author of The Dream Songs, which are playful, witty, and morbid. Berryman committed suicide in 1972.

A pamphlet entitled Poems was...more
More about John Berryman...
77 Dream Songs Collected Poems, 1937-1971 Homage to Mistress Bradstreet Selected Poems Recovery

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“Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn”
“Them lady poets must not marry, pal.” 18 likes
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