“John Berryman was an unconventional poet, but he must have surprised even himself when, in his thirties, he was suddenly compelled to write sonnets.” So writes April Bernard in her introduction to the recent reissue of Berryman’s Sonnets. But love has always sounded good in rhymed quatrains and sestets, with Berryman here sketching the ache of an ended extramarital affair. Even pain finds him playful; he mock-reproaches her for leaving him in the midst of summer, when it would be more poetic, and perhaps more cosmically just, if he could mourn alongside “Nature” in the cold months of winter.
You should be gone in winter, that Nature mourn
With me your anarch separation, call-
ing warmth all with you: as more poetical
Than to be left biting the dog-days, lorn
Alone when all else burgeons, brides are born,
Children yet (some) begotten, every wall
Clasped by its vine here . . crony alcohol
Comfort as random as the unicorn.
Listen, for poets are feigned to lie, and I
For you a liar am a thousand times,
Scars of these months blazon like a decree;
I would have you—a liner pulls the sky—
Trust when I mumble me. Than gin-&-limes
You are cooler, darling, O come back to me.
John Berryman (1914–1972) was an American poet and scholar. He won the Pulitzer Prize for 77 Dream Songs in 1965 and the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize for His Toy, His Dream, His Rest in 1969.
Photography by Bob Peterson. (©Bob Peterson)
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