Read Berryman's Sonnets by John Berryman Online


A brilliant and fiercely pitched sonnet cycle about love: at once passionate, forbidden, and doomed John Berryman was an unconventional poet, but he must have surprised even himself when, in his thirties, he found he was suddenly compelled to write sonnets. It was an unusual choice—even an unpopular one—for a poet in a midcentury American literary scene that was less interA brilliant and fiercely pitched sonnet cycle about love: at once passionate, forbidden, and doomed John Berryman was an unconventional poet, but he must have surprised even himself when, in his thirties, he found he was suddenly compelled to write sonnets. It was an unusual choice—even an unpopular one—for a poet in a midcentury American literary scene that was less interested in forms. But it was the right choice, for Berryman found himself in a situation that called for the sonnet: after several years of a happy marriage, he had fallen helplessly, hopelessly in love with the young wife of a colleague.     “Passion sought; passion requited; passion delayed; and, finally, passion utterly thwarted”: this is how the poet April Bernard, in her vivid, intimate introduction, characterizes the sonnet cycle, and it is the cycle that Berryman found himself caught up in. Of course the affair was doomed to end, and end badly. But in the meantime, on the page Berryman performs a spectacular dance of tender, obsessive, impossible love in his “characteristic tonal mixture of bravado and lacerating shame-facedness.” Here is the poet as lover, genius, and also, in Bernard’s words, as nutcase.     In Berryman’s Sonnets, the poet draws on the models of Petrarch and Sidney to reanimate and reimagine the love-sonnet sequence. Complex, passionate, filled with verbal fireworks and the emotional strains of joy, terror, guilt, and longing, these poems are ripe for rediscovery by contemporary readers....

Title : Berryman's Sonnets
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780374112042
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 121 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Berryman's Sonnets Reviews

  • Matthew
    2019-06-16 08:05

    In her introduction to the new edition of Berryman's Sonnets (released to commemorate the centennial of the poet's birth), poet April Bernard aligns Berryman's Sonnets with the Sonnets of Petrarch, Sidney, Shakespeare, and Browning. Her reasons for aligning Berryman with the aforementioned being twofold: First, to juxtapose the historical contexts of the aforementioned poets with Berryman's relatively recent composition. She writes: "Why sonnets? Why on earth, in the middle of the twentieth century, a sonnet sequence?" (Introduction, vii) Indeed, Berryman's sonnets seem out of place in the context of the twentieth century. In a roundabout way, Bernard suggests that the Sonnets were as surprising in the twentieth century as the affair that inspired the sonnets was in Berryman's life. Readers familiar with Berryman's later poems may consider him a "womanizer" (particularly for the poems of Love & Fame). But it is Bernard's firm belief that the affair was to Berryman in his thirties, then "contentedly married for several years", "a wonderful, terrifying, and guilty predicament". (Introduction, vii)Second, to draw out what is consistent in Berryman's Sonnets as in the Sonnets of the aforementioned poet... What Bernard calls "a passionate folly". (Introduction, vii) By which Bernard means the doomed love that is the subject of these Sonnets. ""Petrarch's 'Laura' dies; Sidney's 'Stella' rejects him; Shakespeare's two loves, the 'fair young man' and the 'dark lady,' betray and disappoint; and even Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese ends pro forma with the dismissal of the lover as the speaker embraces death - although, as everyone knows, in 'real life' the poet found her happy ending." (Introduction, viii) Berryman, true to formula, found no happy ending. But of this "passionate folly", Berryman bore sweet fruit in the form of the Sonnets. Here are a few of my favourite passages...Cageless they'd grapple. O where, whose Martini Grows sweeter with my torment, wrung on towardThe insomnia of eternity, loud graves!Hölderlin on his tower sang like the seaMore you adored that day than your harpsichord,Troubled and drumming, tempting and empty waves. - from Sonnet 12In a poem made by Cummings, long since, his Girl was the rain, but darling you are the sunlight Volleying down blue air, waking a flight Of sighs to follow like the mourning iris Your shining-out-of-shadow hair I miss A fortnight and to-noon. What you excite You are, you are me: as light's parasite For vision on... us. O if my synchrisis Teases you, briefer than Propertius' in This paraphrase by Pound—to whom I owe Three letters—why, run through me like a comb: I lie down flat! under your discipline I die. No doubt of visored others, though... The broad sky dumb with stars shadows me home. - Sonnet 27Demand me again what Kafka's riddles mean,For I am the penal colony's prime scribe:From solitary, firing against tribeUncanny judgments ancient and unclean.I am the officer flat on my own machine,Priest of the one Law no despair can bribe,On whom the mort-prongs hover to inscribe 'I FELL IN LOVE' ... O none of this foreseen,Adulteries and divorce cold I judgedAnd strapped the tramps flat. Now the harrow tremblesDown, a strap snaps, I wave - out of control -To you to change the legend has not budgedThese years: make the machine grave on me (stumblesSomeone to latch the strap) 'I MET MY SOUL'. - Sonnet 73My senseless presence in your presence not,My comments rather skew - They'll say 'I wonderWhat is in Berryman lately? I find him strangerThan usual' - working their nickel in the slotThey'll try again, dreamless they drag from yonderVexed to my leather chair this lathered ranger. - from Sonnet 84Down-soft my joy in the beginning, ODawn-disenchanted since, I hardly remember The useful urine-retentive years I sped.- I said as little as I could, sick; knowYour strange heart works; wish us into SeptemberOnly alive, and lovers, and abed. - from Sonnet 90

  • Kat
    2019-05-29 12:15

    Wow! Old fashioned style sonnets, filled with modernism. Have never read something like this before.

  • Chris Marquette
    2019-06-09 12:07

    These sonnets are sometimes explicit, sometimes beautiful, sometimes incomprehensible. I feel like they drove me to insanity, and then somewhere in the middle they helped me regain the sanity they stole from me. But by the end I was insane with them once more. I recommend them, but only to the patient.

  • Anders
    2019-05-22 08:02

    "Unless my lungs adapt me to despair,I'll nod off into the increasing, wide,Marvelous sleep my hope lets herald me.""I have heard nothing but the sough of the seaAnd wide upon the open sea my friendThe sea-wind crying, out of its cave to roamNo more, no more . . until my memorySwung you back like a lock: I sing the end,Tolerant Aeolus to call me home."So I hadn't heard of Berryman before I moved to Minnesota, and once finding out about him, I think a friend recommended the Dreamsongs, maybe I read one or two and thought it might be cool to read up on him, you know, modernist poets, why not? I found this book randomly at a used book store so I said to myself, "Well Anders, why not start here?" And so here we are, my first experience with a full Berryman text.This book of poetry was exactly what it promised to be: a torrid love affair in the form of 115 sonnets. And: a combination of the traditional sonnet form with modernist American diction and sensibilities. I found the combination to be pleasant, at times too opaque or boring, at others quite virtuous and profound--warranting pondering. Berryman is also considered to be part of the "confessional writing" style of poetry which very clearly comes out in this work. Although, it seems sort of second-nature that a collection of poems written in the 1st person by one of the parties in a torrid love affair would be, in a word, confessional.What's more? Well the style really is exquisite-I mean that it was done well, though sometimes I found it to be jarring or inscrutable. I'll say that Berryman knows his stuff, takes full advantage of rhythm, rhyme, meter, and copious amounts and degrees of ellipsis, allusion, diction, elision, and other poetic techniques to make the sonnets fit their proper form but also bring something new. It's pleasurable to read a poet like this, but sometimes it's also irritating. They know more than me and I have to look stuff up. He puts things too vaguely and I don't want to think so hard to figure out what he's saying. But at the pleasurable times, things do line up and the message is a fine beam of light, prepared to warm or sear, with passion or grief.Corresponding to these two sides of the poetry I've identified, my reaction was also bifurcated. The enjoyable moments were either intensely unbearable for their passion or delivered a dour mind beyond repair. It's things we've all experienced, those of us who have been in love under not ideal circumstances. It's hard to confront those things, just like it's hard for most people to confront the feelings that they're too busy to deal with. I'm not saying this poetry will have some sort of psychotherapeutic effect on you, but it may be something relevant to your experiences. Recognizing that love exists in difficult circumstances isn't the most outlandish thing to affirm, regardless.There's something else I want to say to on top of the joy and irritation I experienced: There's something about the idea of a man, or a character, writing 115 sonnets that express various levels of passion and heartache that transcends my joy and the irritation. This is a man who has spilled out the ordeal of his love fraught with pain and that in itself is an overpowering testament to his will. At the end of reading the book I found myself emotionally drained. Maybe I'm taking things to seriously, but to quote Rilke, "Sex is difficult, true. But difficult things are what we were set to do, almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious. If you only acknowledge this and manage from your own resources, from your own disposition and nature, from your own experience and childhood and strength, to win your way towards a relationship to sex that is wholly your own (not influenced by convention and custom), then you have no need to fear losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your best possession" (From #4, Worpswede near Bremen, 16 July 1903 trans. Charlie Louth). This is the great struggle we all conduct ourselves in and these poems are a testament to that.So yes I enjoyed this. I would recommend it to those readers of modernist American poetry or those interested in the sonnet form. I will say though that most of the poems are quite dense so to the untrained eye they may be tiresome. But, at the same time, there are quite a few fine turns of phrase that may be pleasing in other ways without subterranean scrutiny.Here's probably my favorite (57):"Our love conducted as in heavy rainDevelops hair and lowers its head: the lashAnd weight of rain breed, like the soundless sloshDivers make round a wrack, régime, domainInvisible, to us inured invisible stainOf all our process; also lightning flashLimns us audacious and furtive, whom slow crashOn crash jolt like the mud- and storm-blind Wain.If the rain ceased and the unlikely sunShone out! . . whom our stars shake, could we emergeTrustful and clear into the common rank,--So long deceiving?--Days when Dathan sankQuick to the pit not past, darling, we vergeDaily O there: have strange changes begun?"

  • Nathaniel Klaung
    2019-06-15 13:11

    Berryman's Sonnets are an essential read to any Berryman nut. I could talk about him finding his form, etc, but that has already been done very well. The Sonnets are panned as his weakest work, which is a criticism I refute. Berryman's Sonnets are the most humane pieces of Berryman's body of work. The fist 20 or so Sonnets are confusing, and often disappointing, but the poems skyrocket in the latter portion of the book. They are heartbreaking, desperate, and, most of all, beautiful. Berryman removes himself from his abstractions and speaks to the reader's humane desire to love, and thus, ultimately crash into disappointment and desperation---a constant factor in life itself. Berryman's Sonnets are a must read. In no way do they reach The Dispossessed, Bradstreet, and the Dream Songs in their entirety. The Sonnet's are simply a movement in the poet's brilliant career, and they are, in fact, brilliant.

  • Rhomboid Goatcabin
    2019-05-28 11:57

    Berryman's "Sonnets" is crammed full of some of his absolute 'delicious' best. This collection has instantly revitalised both the sonnet form and the love sonnet (sequence) for yours truly and is fervently recommended.

  • Jeff
    2019-06-06 11:14

    It is hard to think of a collection, other than Shakespeare's Sonnets, where a single poetic form yields such a rich, complex, and subtle collection of ideas as in Berryman's Sonnets. Berryman was in the throes of an extra-marital affair when he wrote these poems, and themes of love found, love lost, and love illicit permeate the texts. Many of the poems allude to Tristan und Isolde, especially through references to ships and sailing, or by mixing up the magic potions of that opera with modern-day cocktails (Berryman was a very serious drinker all his life). Berryman was holding down a university teaching job at the time, so reference to works of literature abound (I especially love the poem beginning "Demand of me again what Kafka's riddles mean"). Some of these texts are among the most sublime expressions of love in modern English, at least as far as I'm concerned:"Blood of my sweet unrest runs all the same...I am in love with you. Trapped in my ribcage, something throes and aches."Wow.

  • Christopher
    2019-06-03 12:03

    Some of Berryman's sonnets are truly sublime and stand with the form's best. I found his childish braggadocio about alcohol both annoying and quaint. The actual life events described by and/or inspiring the sonnets reveal a troubled man lacking emotional maturity--not necessarily a problem, as personal flaws do not a failed artist make, but they could be distracting. Nonetheless, Berryman's facility with the words themselves frequently transcend these limitations. Worth a read.

  • Michael
    2019-05-26 14:47

    ”..I biked out leisurely one day becauseMy heart was breaking, and swung up with the casualPassion of May again your sycamore..Hand trembling on the top, everything wasBeautiful, inhuman, green and real as usual.—Your hypocrite hangs on the truth, sea-sore.”

  • James
    2019-05-21 13:12

    Sonnet-cycle chronicle of a tragic love, or, tragic sonnet-cycle chronicle of a love--Berryman style. You can see here the sensibility that becomes the Dream Songs. Berryman's sonnets are their own force and stand apart dauntingly in an exhaustive tradition.

  • Aran
    2019-06-14 07:49

    Not my favorite Berryman but worth revisiting. Brilliant lines in amidst the tangle.