University of Leicester
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The poetry of John Berryman: The life of his art.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 09:01 authored by Charles W. Thornbury
Each of three parts examines the complex rhythmic and drama-means by which Berryman's poetry became a single drive towards life and a sense of wholeness. Part I explains Berryman's notion of "living poetry," using the concept of rhythm, not simply metrics, and analyzes four exemplary poems which span the thirty-five years of his career. Part II places Berryman in the English Romantic tradition of the poetry of experience with special reference to Keats's notion of the "chameleon poet" and Wordsworth's and Yeats's poetry of the central self. Much of the argument of Part II is based on Berryman's unpublished notes on Keats's Letters. Part III examines in detail, in light of the first two parts, the three major phases of Berryman's poetry and focuses primarily on The Dispossessed (1948), The Dream Songs (I967), and Love and Fame (1971) each of which are representative of each phase. In the first phase, Berryman carefully polishes his verse, arid he takes as his models Yeats and Auden. But during his long apprenticeship (ca, 1935-45), he begins to find his own voice through his strong sense of being a chameleon poet (i.e. dramatic monologue) and by concentrating mainly upon characters who are under stress -- thus, the beginning of his disrupted syntax which continues in his Sonnets, written in 1947, and in Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. But not until The Dream Songs does Berryman's twisted syntax seem functional. The Dream Songs is Berryman's greatest work not only artistically, but also in the penetration of its thought, the subtlety of its feeling, and the sense of wholeness it suggests. In the third phase (Love and Fame) Berryman sets out to do something he had not done before. His style becames simple, but explosive, and his voice speaks directly and autobiographically. But his poetry is still no less subtle and complex in his exploration of the nature of his relation to past and future experience.


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University of Leicester

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  • Doctoral

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  • PhD



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