'Something Like a Final Ordering'

In the seventy-seventh of The Dream Songs, John Berryman writes, "these fierce & airy occupations, and love, / raved away so many of Henry's years." The pervasive tone of Berryman's life and writing, spanning the tired, mad, and lonely years from 1914 to 1972, is that of religious despair; somber and violent, the emphasis is on the grotesque dark night of the soul rather than the immaculate light of salvation. In works now taking their place in American literature, including The Dream Songs (which won a Pulitzer); Homage to Mistress Bradstreet; Love & Fame; His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (National Book Award); The Freedom of the Poet; and Recovery, Berryman—arguably one of the most gifted and trenchant poets of the postmodern generation—evokes a world of psychological schism. His "occupations" record the autobiographical quest of a deeply spiritual man for religious security against the background of chaos, disorder, and destruction, of a life raved away in alcoholism, hallucination, and revelation. Berryman does not, however, merely exploit his personal anguish; instead, with colloquial intimacy, he deals with the predicament of persons in a world who have suffered not only the loss of God but the loss of themselves. Berryman's courage compelled him to record with clarity and frankness his own spiritual malignancy, until at last—tired...

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