HIS TOY, HIS DREAM, HIS REST by John Berryman

HIS TOY, HIS DREAM, HIS REST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Berryman: Henry and his dream songs, performing ""operations of great delicacy/on myself,"" and on modern verse. . . The tendency in writing about Berryman is always to sound fragmentary. His dream songs are disciplined fragments, arias of Chaplinesque derangement, mini-epics. Of course Henry is the archetypal modern hero burlesqued and more agonized, what Eliot and Pound and Cummings and Stevens become, or would have become, in the post-Hiroshima era, or the ""happening"" of Vietnam. This historical continuity with the early avant garde is the most singular aspect of Berryman's work. Henry is a persona, just like Prufrock, and something more (Berryman denies that he is Henry, but the irredeemably autobiographical references give him the lie page after page). Through Henry, Berryman comments on the world, friends, lovers, the nuttiness, despair, whimsicality, irony of culture and the self, ""ancient sighs, infamous characters, new rhythms."" The dream songs are extraordinary experiments with language, and for language, closer to the siren enticements of the autonomous poem, that canonical vision of Mallarme and his followers, than anything produced in America or England in two decades. It is a peculiar triumph, a curiously astonishing/disappointing mixture of the comic and the austere, truth and fancy, relevance and camp. Now it is all over: His Toy, His Dream, His Rest concludes the sequence. In general, the style is more secure than in the earlier 77 Dream Songs, but in no way is it as fresh, inspired, moving. The true test of art is crystallization, an exhilarating cohesion; here Berryman's found wanting.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1968
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux