Berryman’s Dream Song 235

It’s hard to imagine how Berryman could have stated more clearly, or more effectively, the terrible effect his father’s suicide had on him than here in Song


Tears Henry shed for poor old Hemingway
Hemingway in despair, Hemingway at the end,
the end of Hemingway,
tears in a diningroom in Indiana
and that was years ago, before his marriage say,
God to him no worse luck send.

Save us from shotguns & fathers’ suicides.
It all depends on who you’re the father of
if you want to kill yourself-
a bad example, murder of oneself,
the final death, in a paroxysm, of love
for which good mercy hides?

A girl at the door: ‘A few coppers pray’
But to return, to return to Hemingway
that cruel & gifted man.
Mercy! my father; do not pull the trigger
or all my life I’ll suffer from your anger
killing what you began.

“God to him [but especially to ME] no worse luck send.“

One almost wonders if Berryman could somehow see his own fate in Hemingway’s suicide after all the times Hemingway ranted about his father’s weakness in taking his life because he (allegedly) couldn’t stand up to his wife.

The poems seem like the ultimate testament to “or all my life I’ll suffer from your anger/ killing what you began.”

10 thoughts on “Berryman’s Dream Song 235”

  1. This poem certainly lays bare his thoughts on his father’s suicide. And (Papa) Hemingway’s suicide must have been awful for Berryman to contemplate, as it may have suggested to him that writing may not bring salvation, ultimately.

  2. “The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parent.” – C.G. Jung

    The terrible emotional burden that John Berryman and Ernest Hemingway carried throughout their lives clearly became unbearable, and took nothing away from what they were able to accomplish creatively, despite that burden.

    One of Ernest Hemingway’s gifted granddaughters, Margaux, named after a wine, changed her named to Margot after she stopped drinking, but continued to suffer from an eating disorder and committed suicide.

    An old friend of mine, an insightful man who loved the natural world, had stopped drinking for many years, but within a year of starting to drink again, he killed himself on his birthday. Although my friend’s father did not commit suicide, I would be surprised to find that my friend was the first suicide in the history of his family.

    The combination of alcoholism and a family history of depression and/or suicide can make death seem like the only option for an intelligent, sensitive, vulnerable and emotionally exhausted person.

  3. Thanks to all for these important comments. Especially after viewing HBO’s rather skewed version of “Olive Kitteridge” (even as superb as McDormand is).

    1. I just watched Olive Kitteridge and it made me aware of John Berryman’s work – Dreams 235…

      My father committed suicide when I was 10 years old. While I’ve understood the potential implications it might have on someone’s perception of self worth, their disillusion of a fated destiny for not deserving happiness thus trapped in a cycle of habitual self destructive behavior or the open ended questions of a parents life unfulfilled…

      While every suicide has it’s own tragic origins, I’ve had to be able to disassociate myself from it and find motivation in it… Perhaps a motivation to fulfill a relationship once promised to a son, as a son and a father.

      1. I know it’s year ago from this tread but I just saw the movie. I wanted to read the poem to find out the message he was trying to capture. Do you think the napkin was meant for Olive and do you think he was trying to say she felt she was not deserving of happiness due to her father’s suicide? Meaning she wasn’t with him so she was choosing to still be unhappy?

        1. Sorry, but I just read the poetry. I never saw the movie, so I know not of what you speak. Unfortunately, I doubt that any of the ones who saw the movie and left comments will see your comment.

  4. Now 60, I still morn the suicide of my father when he was 47, and I was 23. Covered a lot of territory since then. Not what I would have chosen. It has made it possible to listen and support, and wrestle with extra, ah, ordinary issues. I walk knowing it counts.

  5. I do think the napkin was made for Olive, but in my perspective of the miniseries O’Casey is Ollie’s conscience. She couldn’t be with him, because that would make her happy, and on her mind she doesn’t deserve happiness.

  6. After seeing the Kitteridge movie I had to find out the significance of the Berryman book that O’Casey gives to they teenage boy in his car (who later contemplates suicide). Bingo. Thanks, Loren.

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