THE FREEDOM OF THE POET by John Berryman

THE FREEDOM OF THE POET

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KIRKUS REVIEW

John Berryman has always been a learned poet paradoxically harboring an innate distrust of the learned. In the celebrated Dream Songs, imagistic, private, emblematic landscapes, not ideas, are what attract: tag-ends of interior references, grievances, joys. The early modernist phase, from which he descends, was programmatic, belligerent, magisterial. Eliot and Pound were warrior priests in the name of le mot juste. Civilization was the great task, civilization brought to birth or reclaimed. But along with others of his generation--Lowell, Schwartz, Jarrell--Berryman discovered that historical consciousness henceforth could exist only at certain times, in certain, all very limited ways. Still, for Berryman the sturdiness and scope, the sheer intellectuality of Eliot and Pound never lost their luster. And his secret aspiration to make sense of the fragmented modern sensibility on their heroic terms is nowhere more evident than in this posthumous collection of reviews and essays written over the last three decades--all of them enforcing his own jubilant prediction a year before his death: ""Hurrah for me: my prose collection is going to be a beauty."" What works so well for Berryman here is not only his flaming pedantry (he does indeed seem to carry a whole culture in his head), or the variety of his interests (everything from Shakespeare and Cervantes to Anne Frank and The Monk), but also--or in particular--the strange sparkle and personal tone, the absolute enthusiasm and idiosyncratic insights he brings to his subjects. This is no professor's book: each page, each commentary is vivid with a human presence and an unmistakable voice; the authority is that of a man who in his commitment to literature and the authors he loves has discovered his own essence.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1976
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux