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John Berryman Poems

A collection of select John Berryman famous poems that were written by John Berryman or written about the poet by other famous poets. PoetrySoup is a comprehensive educational resource of the greatest poems and poets on history.

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by Berryman, John
 As a kid I believed in democracy: I
'saw no alternative'—teaching at The Big Place I ah
put it in practice:
we'd time for one long novel: to a vote—
Gone with the Wind they voted: I crunched 'No'
and we sat down with War & Peace.

As a man I believed in democracy (nobody 
ever learns anything): only one lazy day
my assistant, called James...Read More



by Berryman, John
 28 July

Calmly, while sat up friendlies & made noise
delight fuller than he can ready sing
or studiously say,
on hearing that the year had swung to pause
and culminated in an abundant thing,
came his Lady's birthday.

Dogs fill daylight, doing each other ill:
my own in love was lugged so many blocks
we had to have a vet.
Comes unrepentant round the lustful mongrel
again today, glaring...Read More

by Berryman, John
 I miss him. When I get back to camp
I'll dig him up. Well, he can prop & watch,
can't he, pink or blue,
and I will talk to him. I miss him. Slams,
grand or any, aren't for the tundra much.
One face-card will do.

It's marvellous how four sit down—beyond
my thought how many tables sometimes are 
in forgotten clubs
across & down the world....Read More

by Berryman, John
 or Amy Vladeck or Riva Freifeld

That isna Henry limping. That's a hobble
clapped on mere Henry by the most high GOD
for the freedom of Henry's soul.
—The body's foul, cried god, once, twice, & bound it—
For many years I hid it from him successfully—
I'm not clear how he found it

But now he has it—much good may it do him
in the vacant...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Fresh-shaven, past months & a picture in New York
of Beard Two, I did have Three took off. Well. .
Shadow & act, shadow & act,
Better get white or you' get whacked,
or keep so-called black
& raise new hell.

I've had enough of this dying.
You've done me a dozen goodnesses; get well.
Fight again for our own.
Henry felt baffled, in the middle of the...Read More



by Berryman, John
 There is an eye, there was a slit.
Nights walk, and confer on him fear.
The strangler tree, the dancing mouse
confound his vision; then they loosen it.
Henry widens. How did Henry House
himself ever come here?

Nights run. Tes yeux bizarres me suivent
when loth at landfall soft I leave.
The soldiers, Coleridge Rilke Poe,
shout commands I never heard.
They march about, dying & absurd.
Toddlers are...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Foes I sniff, when I have less to shout
or murmur. Pals alone enormous sounds
downward & up bring real.
Loss, deaths, terror. Over & out,
beloved: thanks for cabbage on my wounds:
I'll feed you how I feel:—

of avocado moist with lemon, yea
formaldehyde & rotting sardines O
in our appointed time
I would I could a touch more fully say
my consentless mind. The senses are...Read More

by Berryman, John
 A Thurn

Among them marble where the man may lie
lie chieftains grand in final phase, or pause,
'O rare Ben Jonson',
dictator too, & the thinky other Johnson,
dictator too, backhanders down of laws,
men of fears, weird & sly.

Not of these least is borne to rest.
If grandeur & mettle prompted his lone journey
neither oh crowded shelved 
nor this slab I celebrates attest
his complex...Read More

by Berryman, John
 A hemorrhage of his left ear of Good Friday—
so help me Jesus—then made funny too
the other, further one.
There must have been a bit. Sheets scrubbed away 
soon all but three nails. Doctors in this city O
will not (his wife cried) come.

Perhaps he's for it. IF that Filipino doc
had diagnosed ah here in Washington
that ear-infection ha
he'd have been grounded, so...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Thin as a sheet his mother came to him
during the screaming evenings after he did it,
touched F.J.'s dead hand.
The parlour was dark, he was the first pall-bearer in,
he gave himself a dare & then did it,
the thing was quite unplanned,

riots for Henry the unstructured dead,
his older playmate fouled, reaching for him
and never will he be free
from the older boy...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Come touch me baby in his waking dream
disordered Henry murmured. I'll read you Hegel
and that will hurt your mind
I can't remember when you were unkind
but I will clear that block, I'll set you on fire
along with our babies

to save them up the high & ruined stairs,
my growing daughters. I am insane, I think,
they say & act so.
But then they...Read More

by Berryman, John
 A Small Dream

It was only a small dream of the Golden World,
now you trot off to bed. I'll turn the machine off,
you've danced & trickt us enough.
Unintelligible whines & imprecations, hurled
from the second floor, fail to impress your mother
and I am the only other

and I say go to bed! We'll meet tomorrow,
acres of threats dissolve into a smile,
you'll be...Read More

by Berryman, John
 I heard said 'Cats that walk by their wild lone'
but Henry had need of friends. They disappeared
Shall I follow my dream?
Clothes disappeared in a backward sliding, zones
shot into view, pocked, exact & weird:
who is what he seem?

I will tell you now a story about Speck:
after other cuts, he put the knife in her eye,
one of the eight: 
he was...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Henry's pelt was put on sundry walls
where it did much resemble Henry and
them persons was delighted.
Especially his long & glowing tail
by all them was admired, and visitors.
They whistled: This is it!

Golden, whilst your frozen daiquiris
whir at midnight, gleams on you his fur
& silky & black.
Mission accomplished, pal.
My molten yellow & moonless bag,
drained, hangs at rest.

Collect in the cold depths...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Westward, hit a low note, for a roarer lost
across the Sound but north from Bremerton,
hit a way down note.
And never cadenza again of flowers, or cost.
Him who could really do that cleared his throat
& staggered on.

The bluebells, pool-shallows, saluted his over-needs,
while the clouds growled, heh-heh, & snapped, & crashed.

No stunt he'll ever unflinch once more will fail
(O lucky fellow,...Read More

by Berryman, John
 I am the little man who smokes & smokes.
I am the girl who does know better but.
I am the king of the pool.
I am so wise I had my mouth sewn shut.
I am a government official & a goddamned fool.
I am a lady who takes jokes.

I am the enemy of the mind.
I am the auto salesman and lóve you.
I...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Henry Hankovitch, con guítar,
did a short Zen pray,
on his tatami in a relaxed lotos
fixin his mind on nuffin, rose-blue breasts,
and gave his parnel one French kiss;
enslaving himself he withdrew from his blue

Florentine leather case an Egyptian black
& flickt a zippo.
Henry & Phoebe happy as cockroaches
in the world-kitchen woofed, with all away.
The International flame, like despair, rose
or like the foolish...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Henry in Ireland to Bill underground:
Rest well, who worked so hard, who made a good sound
constantly, for so many years:
your high-jinks delighted the continents & our ears:
you had so many girls your life was a triumph
and you loved your one wife.

At dawn you rose & wrote—the books poured forth—
you delivered infinite babies, in one great birth—
and your generosity
to juniors...Read More

by Berryman, John
 'All virtues enter into this world:')
A Buddhist, doused in the street, serenely burned.
The Secretary of State for War,
winking it over, screwed a redhaired whore.
Monsignor Capovilla mourned. What a week.
A journalism doggy took a leak

against absconding coon ('but take one virtue,
without which a man can hardly hold his own')
the sun in the willow
shivers itself & shakes itself green-yellow
(Abba Pimen groaned,...Read More

by Berryman, John
 Whence flew the litter whereon he was laid?
Of what heroic stuff was warlock Henry made?
and questions of that sort
perplexed the bulging cosmos, O in short
was sandalwood in good supply when he
flared out of history

& the obituary in The New York Times
into the world of generosity
creating the air where are
& can be, only, heroes? Statues & rhymes
signal his fiery Passage,...Read More