Leaving behind the country of the dead
where he must then return & die himself
he set his tired face due East
where the sun rushes up the North Atlantic
and where had paused a little the war for bread
& the war for status has ceased
forever, and he took with him five books,
a Whitman & a Purgatorio,
a one-volume dictionary,
an Oxford Bible with all its bays & nooks
& bafflements long familiar to Henry
& one other new book-O.
If ever he had crafted in the past—
but only if—he swore now to craft better
which lay in the Hands above.
He said: I’ll work on slow, O slow & fast,
if a letter comes I will answer that letter
& my whole year will be tense with love.
Chosen for FSG Poetry Month by Sarah Scire.
John Berryman was born in Oklahoma in 1914. The author of several volumes of poetry, of which The Dream Songs is considered his masterwork, he died, a suicide, in 1972.