John Berryman's 77 Dream Songs is one of the most original and disturbing works of poetry to come out of the twentieth century and still remains in a league of its own. The poems revolve around an ill-starred character named Henry and his more sinister double Mr. Bones. Berryman incorporates archaic English, slang, child-speak, blues, jazz, slant rhyme, perfect rhyme, irregular meter, off-beat rhythms, and allusions to both the mainstream and the classical. Berryman uses an unusual sonnet form (three stanzas of six lines - what Kevin Young calls the devil's sonnet) and drifts between first, second, and third person. While the poems are often humorous, absurd, and playful, 77 Dream Songs is dark, at times offensive, and ultimately tragic. You cannot read them and leave unscathed.— From Andrew
A wild, masterful Pulitzer Prize-winning cycle of poems that half a century later still shocks and astounds
John Berryman was hardly unknown when he published 77 Dream Songs, but the volume was, nevertheless, a shock and a revelation. A "spooky" collection in the words of Robert Lowell-"a maddening work of genius."
As Henri Cole notes in his elegant, perceptive introduction, Berryman had discovered "a looser style that mixed high and low dictions with a strange syntax." Berryman had also discovered his most enduring alter ego, a paranoid, passionate, depressed, drunk, irrepressible antihero named Henry or, sometimes, Mr. Bones: "We touch at certain points," Berryman claimed, of Henry, "But I am an actual human being."
Henry may not be real, but he comes alive on the page. And while the most famous of the Dream Songs begins, "Life, friends, is boring," these poems never are. Henry lusts: seeing a woman "Filling her compact & delicious body / with chicken páprika" he can barely restrain himself: "only the fact of her husband & four other people / kept me from springing on her." Henry despairs: "All the world like a woolen lover / once did seem on Henry's side. / Then came a departure." Henry, afraid of his own violent urges, consoles himself: "Nobody is ever missing."
77 Dream Songs won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, but Berryman's formal and emotional innovations-he cracks the language open, creates a new idiom in which to express eternal feelings-remain as alive and immediate today as ever.