Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Desire Is a World by Night," by John Berryman

The history of strangers in their dreams
Being irresponsible, is fun for men,
Whose sons are neither at the Front nor frame
Humiliating weakness to keep at home
Nor wtnce on principle, wearing mother grey,
Honoured by radicals. When the mind is free
The catechetical mind can mincn and tear
Contemptible vermin from a stranger's hair
And then sleep.

          In our parents' dreams we see
Vigour abutting on senility,
Stiff blood, and weathered with the years, poor vane;
Unfortunate but inescapable.
Although the wind bullies the windowpane
Are the children to be kept responsible
For the world's decay? Carefully we choose
Our fathers, carefully we cut out those
On whom to exert the politics of praise.

Heard after dinner, in defenceless ease,
The dreams of friends can puzzle, dazzle us
With endless journeys through unfriendly snow,
Malevolent faces that appear and frown
Where nothing was expected, the sudden stain
On spotless window-ledges; these we take
Chuckling, but take them with us when we go,
To study in secret, late, brooding, looking
For trails and parallels. We have a stake
In this particular region, and we look
Excitedly for situations that we know.
—The disinterested man has gone abroad;
Winter is on the by-way where he rode
Erect and alone, summery years ago.

When we dream, paraphrase, analysis
Exhaust the crannies of the night. We stare,
Fresh sweat upon our foreheads, as they fade:
The melancholy and terror of avenues
Where long no single man has moved, but play
Under the arc-lights gangs of the grey dead
Running directionless. That bright blank place
Advances with us into fearful day,
Heady and insuppressible. Call in friends,
They grin and carry it carefully away,—
The fathers can't be trusted,—strangers wear
Their strengths, and visor. Last, authority,
The Listener borrow from an English grave
To solve our hatred and our bitterness..
The foul and absurd to solace or dismay.
All this will never appear; we will not say;
Let the evidence be buried in a cave
Off the main road. If anyone could see
The white scalp of that passionate will and those
Sullen desires, he would stumble, dumb,
Retreat into the time from which he came
Counting upon his fingers and toes.

-from The Dispossessed, (1948), reprinted in Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and Other Poems, (1968)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Okay, help us...

"Nor wtnce on principle..."?