“Dream Song 90: Op. posth. no. 13”

John Berryman

Selected by Adam Thirlwell

I still don’t feel old enough to read Berryman, and I first read him twenty years ago, when I was about fifteen. No one else uses English so baroquely or so tenderly; or moves through tones as quickly or as terribly. No one else could make the word “Pussycat” unbearable with grief.

—Adam Thirlwell


Dream Song 90: Op. posth. no. 13

In the night-reaches dreamed he of better graces,
of liberations, and beloved faces,
such as now ere dawn he sings.
It would not be easy, accustomed to these things,
to give up the old world, but he could try;
let it all rest, have a good cry.

Let Randall rest, whom your self-torturing
cannot restore one instant’s good to, rest:
he’s left us now.
The panic died and in the panic’s dying
so did my old friend. I am headed west
also, also, somehow.

In the chambers of the end we’ll meet again
I will say Randall, he’ll say Pussycat
and all will be as before
whenas we sought, among the beloved faces,
eminence and were dissatisfied with that
and needed more.
 

The Dream Songs

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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, a continuation of the Dream Songs, in 1969.

Adam Thirlwell was born in London in 1978. He is the author of the novels Politics and The Escape; the novella Kapow!; a project about international novels, The Delighted States, which won a Somerset Maugham Award; and of a compendium of translations edited for McSweeney’s. He has twice been selected as one of Granta‘s Best Young Novelists. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in London.

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