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Analysis of John Berryman's Dream Song

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HENRY BY NIGHT- JOHN BERRYMAN In his poem, Berryman presents the reader with the image of a deeply troubled, sad and lonely man and the half life that he is living. The voice of the poem is that of an outside narrator looking in on the life of Henry, most likely the persona that Berryman created in his ?Dream Songs?. Through the poem, Berryman explores the themes of life and the inner demons that can hinder. The first line of the poem creates a hook and sets up the subject matter of the poem; that of a man and his ?nocturnal habits?, his constantly restless nights. From this opening, we can already see that Henry has many relationships with the opposite sex due the ?his women? being plural. Berryman, in fact, was noted for having a series of infidelities during his life, so perhaps this could give evidence for the view that Berryman and his persona Henry were one. The line is further strengthened by the combination of diction and structure; the use of the word ?terror? evokes dread in the reader as the connotations are ...read more.


This is only emphasised by ?you?ll admit it was no way to live/ or even keep alive.?- showing that the persona is barely surviving, keeping himself together with ?drugs and alcohol?, which present a vicious circle as these would further distort his mind. Berryman himself was an alcoholic and was hospitalised for exhaustion and nerves many times in his life, further adding weight to the idea that Henry was just an outlet for Berryman?s feelings. Berryman emphasises the dramatic nature of Henry?s sleeping habits through his pairings of strong verbs ?thrashed & tossed?, ?sweating & shaking?, the alliteration and the use of the ampersand reflecting the fact that these actions go on and on, continuously terrorising his sleep. The structure of the poem is just as important as Berryman?s diction in shaping the themes. The poem has seventeen lines and is structured in two stanzas, the line lengths uneven. Berryman?s rhythms are dictated by the pauses he creates, both slowing and quickening the pace. For instance, the rhythms in the centre of the poem are fast, reflecting Berryman?s period of intense action; ?reading new mail, writing new letters, scribbling excessive Songs.? ?Songs? here is capitalised, possibly referring to Berryman?s work of poetry about Henry, the Dream Songs. ...read more.


Berryman?s rhyme scheme is actually a rather traditional pattern of ABCABC DEFDEF GHHGH. However, despite most of the rhymes being full, such as ?back? and ?track?, ?scribbling? and ?quibbling?, the use of enjambment throughout the poem makes the reader stop only when Berryman wants us to, which ensures that the rhyming is extremely subtle. Hence instead of unifying the poem, as the rhyme is not evident immediately to the reader it seems to create an unsettled atmosphere that aids the picture of a tortured soul. Berryman skilfully utilises a blend of aural imagery and carefully chosen words to paint a melancholy picture of tormented man. The varied rhythms in the poem reflect the tumultuous nature of Henry?s ?nocturnal habits?; the slow and fast paces coincide with Henry?s intermittent sleep and subsequent frenzied periods of action. The advice of the unnamed outside ?narrator?, ?something?s gotta give?, ends the poem; something has to be done in Henry?s life as, if he continues on this path and wakes ?for good at five? each morning for normal life, it is evident that he will drive himself to the grave. ...read more.

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