Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sunday night is... John Berryman, drunk, talking and reading

Berryman talking to Al Alvarez in Dublin, in 1967.

Dream Song 14
John Berryman

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the green sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & his tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.


Anonymous said...

If you can suspend feeling and thought simultaneously (is that the essence of boredom? I don't know) then maybe you are eminently ready for death.

I wonder if great age, substances or suffering can induce this, or is it mental anguish that becomes so arduous it eventually gives up on itself.

Can you jump off a bridge or stick your head in an oven through boredom? I doubt it somehow. Too much thought and feeling, the opposite of boredom is what might drive me there.

He confuses me. The poem touches a truth, but does he then stand round the corner from it, barking in fear as my grandmother's dog used to do.

George S said...

I think you may be understating the boredom. It is more like Baudelaire's 'Spleen' than like a child in the holidays. Something has run down, is depleted in him. There is all too much thought and feeling gone into this boredom. It is as much of thought and feeling - his own thought, his own feeling - that he is bored. He has had enough of Henry's plight and gripes. The dog is gone, only the tail is left.

Then one does - he does - go and jump off a bridge. Unlike your grandmother's dog. Animals generally don't commit suicide.

That does not necessarily make the poem more important, grander, even simply better, Facts do not feed poems, though they may feed the reader's consciousness. Bet to strip oneself of that as best as one can when reading the poem, and simply feel the danger.

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying about the boredom not being merely that which his mother termed "inner resources".

I read the poem first, but then I watched the interview and the reading and the reader's response was altered to that of a viewer. I may have preferred my initial response, but I can't articulate it now because it has been over ridden by the picture, the sound! If I could, I might say that the words seemed like a grey room, but how can I when that is the image I saw?

Perhaps conation is the omission in my thoughts that drives the jumping.

George S said...

The interview is simply sad, I feel. He looks and sounds in a bad way. I have known the poem for many years and only just spotted the interview on YouTube. In other words the journey was from the poem to the interview. It might be very different the other way around.

I see from your own website that boredom and manic depression feature there. The strange thing about the Berryman poem - about many of Berryman's poems, especially the Dream Songs - is that the manic nature of the depression is fully articulated in them in the form of drama. Once they are in that form they seem less like personality and more like art.

The great difficulty with, what has come to be called, 'confessional' poetry is that it had to draw very heavily on personality. It depended on it for its energy. It was one of the reasons Larkin couldn't bear Plath and why Berryman's mother was probably on the right track. Notice she doesn't say that if you are bored you have no inner resources - it is if you confess you're bored that you have no inner resources. It is the confession she was criticising, not the boredom. (That might, in fact be the core critique of confessional poetry).

Essentially she was saying: keep a stiff upper lip, keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, play up play up and play the game, don't give in to self-pity.

The poem dramatises - beautifully - the giving in to self-pity, which is, if we are honest, something we all feel, but are loath to confess.

Anonymous said...

My mother said something similar when I was young. I have probably said it myself to my own children. Perhaps I will never say it again now!

I occasionally feel boredom, but it is visceral not mental for me. Now I am in mind of Anne Sexton and I am not sure I want to be... Thank you for sharing your insight.

Anonymous said...

What I see in Berryman's words and countenance- and in the tone of his delivery, is the sense of a desertion- of the thinginness of things and people and animals leaving him. So that he is left with the cheshire cat's smile, or the wag of a dog's tail. I think this is an intensification of affect that goes on multiplying over and over like a distillation that must, if it continues, lead to untouchability. Think he's talking about the affectation of describing objects/words/nature as animated beings- when really what remains is that "We ourselves flash and yearn" - only this and the only time in the poem he doesn't use boredom.
My mother is bi-polar and I have grown up to love and fear this distillation of intensity that connects so completely that it can both feel and imagine deeply and also empty the subject that provokes the feeling into something devoid that cannot feel back- into something boring. There can be a sense of desertion on both sides but it needs to be addressed-can become a conscious language, held delicately through something between touch and seperation.


Gwil W said...

He's only bored in a Dylan Thomas kind of way. It comes from overconsumption of one's social lubricant. A few days abstinence will cure it.

Dylan, after he'd been speaking to his audience for some time suddenly stopped. Perhaps this took place in the Brown's Hotel. He suddenly said: Somebody's boring me. I think it's me.