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DELUSIONS, ETC by John Berryman



Pub Date: April 28th, 1972
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

These last poems of Berryman's are painful to read now not only because they are death-haunted but because they are so tensely and insistently alive in its presence. The incarnations of the earlier works pass as if for a final review -- Berryman the lover, victim, friend, hell-raiser, charme; Berryman with age upon him and singing his confusion -- but the one that lives and animates all the others is the postulant, railing and beseeching and crowding his God so forcibly as almost to shape that near and vast recalcitrance. A voice often plainer than we are used to says what ought to be sufficient: ""I am afraid. . . ashamed. . . I am suspicious of myself. Help me!"" And then, the ""decent if minute salvation"" not forthcoming, anger and self-mocking abjectness exhausted, he reports with the tractability of despair (in these and other words), ""awaiting some/ unacceptable sense,. . . . Father I was amazed I could find none/ and I have walked downstairs."" Back to the level of coping and of the manically occluded style that seems rambunctious and even indomitable (could anyone truly so vulnerable afford his displays?) until we confront its original instance: ""Frantic I cast about abroad/for avenues of out. . . ."" Eulogies to Dickinson, Frost, Thomas and others mount to almost euphoric recall of Beethoven ""Spared deep age,"" or Trak1 -- ""overdose and go"" -- not, one feels, as mere imaginative projections, but as means for transmuting and transcending his own sense of impasse. These are desperate, honest poems with a kind of control that can come from nothing less, and a power that is extreme and entirely fitting.