J. M. Linebarger: On "Dream Song 384"

The emotions that Henry expresses toward his father are as we would expect, ambivalent. Thrice he explicitly states his continuing love for his father (143, 145). But rage and despair dominate the last reference to the father, in the penultimate Dream Song. Henry stands before his father's grave, longing not to be darkly moved by the thought of hiS father’s suicide. Unable to feel indifference he spits on the grave; and he ends the poem in a vicious and mad wish to re-kilI his father:

I'd like to scrabble till I got right down  away down under the grass  and ax the casket open ha to see  just how he's taking it, which he sought so hard . . .                                                              & then Henry  will heft the ax once more, his final card,  and fell it on the start.

Henry's presence at the gravesite is only an imagined scene if William J. Martz is correct in saying that Berryman never returned to it. The angry wish to kill the father is a result of the emotions that Henry has suffered because of his father's death—fear, angst resentment, a sense of desertion. These are the emotions that Berryman finds dominant in the first two of Stephen Crane's "Sullivan County Sketches." Like Berryman, Crane was only a boy when his father died. Berryman feels that the sketches are based upon that loss and present a "world . . . of perfect aloneness, in which relations are possible only through rage and fear" (37-40). Henry's fear and aloneness are clear in other Dream Songs; his rage is fully expressed in the scene of axing his already-dead father. That Berryman had the "Sullivan County Sketches" in mind as he wrote Song 384 is suggested by the phrase "his final card"; the first sketch presents a mysterious old recluse who plays cards with a younger man and "cleans the little man out and howls ‘GO.’" ". . . We have here," Berryman says, "a fantasy on Crane's father and the child's sense of abandonment (impoverishment) as his resented death . . ." (Stephen Crane, 39)

from John Berryman. Copyright © 1974 by Twayne Publishers, Inc.

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Criticism Overview
Title J. M. Linebarger: On "Dream Song 384" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author J. M. Linebarger Criticism Target John Berryman
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 30 Mar 2016
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication John Berryman
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