In ‘Dream Song 149’ by John Berryman, the speaker reflects on his growing disillusionment with the world and the profound impact of Delmore Schwartz’s death. The poem explores themes of loss, disillusionment, and the enduring power of personal connections.
Through evocative imagery, introspective reflections, and the use of colloquial language, Berryman creates a poignant and melancholic tone. The poem serves as a contemplation of the complexities of human existence, the fleeting nature of life, and the longing for meaning in a changing world.
Explore Dream Song 149
‘Dream Song 149’ by John Berryman explores the poet’s disillusionment and sadness in a changing world.
The poem begins with the speaker expressing a growing disinterest in the world they once knew. They question if Delmore, possibly a dear friend or acquaintance, can die, emphasizing Delmore’s enduring impact on their life. The speaker reflects on the years gone by, noting that not a single day passed without fond thoughts of Delmore. The repetition of “Welladay” adds a mournful tone to the poem.
The brightness of Delmore’s potential and his unspoiled nature are highlighted, with the speaker envisioning him as a beacon of insight and a source of warm camaraderie during their time at Harvard. The poem briefly mentions a past incident when the speaker rescued Delmore from a police station, emphasizing their bond and loyalty. However, the world is described as “TREF,” a Yiddish term meaning trifling or worthless, indicating a sense of chaos and confusion.
The speaker then reveals that Delmore Schwartz has died in New York, feeling miserable and alone. The poem references a song Delmore once sang, identifying himself as “the Brooklyn poet Delmore Schwartz” and alluding to personal struggles or emotional pain experienced by both Delmore and his parents. The phrase “Harms and the child I sing, two parents’ torts” suggests a complex family dynamic and a theme of suffering.
Essentially, ‘Dream Song 149’ captures the speaker’s lamentation for a world they no longer find appealing and the profound loss they experience with the death of Delmore Schwartz, a gifted poet whose potential and personal struggles resonated deeply with the speaker. The poem serves as a poignant reflection on friendship, mortality, and the emotional weight of the human condition.
Structure and Form
‘Dream Song 149’ consists of three stanzas, each composed of six lines. The poem follows a consistent structure and form, enhancing its overall impact. The use of this specific form allows Berryman to convey his message in a concise and focused manner.
The poem does not adhere to a strict pattern in terms of the rhyming scheme. Instead, Berryman employs a varied and irregular rhyme scheme, adding to the poem’s unique and unconventional style. The absence of a predictable rhyme scheme contributes to the poem’s sense of unpredictability and emotional intensity.
The first stanza introduces the initial idea and sets the tone, with the speaker expressing their growing disinterest in the world. The second stanza delves deeper into the memories of the speaker’s relationship with Delmore Schwartz, highlighting their bond and the impact Delmore had on the speaker’s life. The third stanza delivers the devastating news of Delmore’s death, concluding the poem with a poignant reflection on loss and the complex emotions associated with it.
The sestet structure allows Berryman to create a sense of balance and symmetry within each stanza. The six-line format offers enough space for the poet to develop his ideas and convey his emotions’ depth while maintaining a concise and focused narrative.
The structure and form of ‘Dream Song 149’ significantly shape the poem’s meaning and impact. The consistent use of a sestet structure provides a framework for the poet to explore themes of disillusionment, friendship, and mortality, while the absence of a rigid rhyme scheme adds to the poem’s raw and emotive quality.
In ‘Dream Song 149,’ John Berryman addresses several interwoven themes throughout the poem. One of the prominent themes is the speaker’s disillusionment with the world. The opening lines convey the speaker’s disinterest and sense of detachment, stating that he no longer cares to be in this gradually changing world. This theme of disillusionment is reinforced by the description of the world as “TREF,” suggesting its worthlessness or insignificance.
Another theme explored in the poem is the power of memory and the lasting impact of relationships. The speaker reflects on his connection with Delmore Schwartz, a figure who remains vivid in his mind. The lines “without a loving thought for him” and “thro’ all our Harvard years” reveal the enduring presence of Delmore in the speaker’s memory. This theme emphasizes the significance of personal connections and the way they shape one’s thoughts and emotions.
Loss and grief are central themes in the third stanza, as the speaker reveals the news of Delmore’s death. The mention of Delmore being “miserably & alone” evokes a profound sense of sadness and emphasizes the isolating nature of mortality. The song Delmore sang, “I am the Brooklyn poet Delmore Schwartz,” alludes to the struggles and pain experienced by both Delmore and his parents, exploring the theme of suffering and its impact on identity.
Additionally, the poem touches upon the theme of the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. The speaker contemplates whether Delmore can die, suggesting the indelible mark Delmore left on his life. The mention of the mist of the actual and the passing of time emphasizes the transient nature of existence and the fleeting opportunities for connection and understanding.
Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language
In ‘Dream Song 149,’ John Berryman utilizes various poetic techniques and figurative language to convey his message effectively.
- Repetition: One of the techniques employed is repetition, specifically the use of the phrases “day” and “Welladay.” This repetition reinforces the speaker’s lamentation and adds a mournful tone to the poem, emphasizing his sense of loss and sorrow.
- Imagery: Berryman also incorporates vivid imagery throughout the poem. For instance, the speaker describes Delmore Schwartz as “blazing with insight” and “warm with gossip.” These images create a vibrant portrayal of Delmore’s presence and his intellectual and social engagement.
- Figurative language: This is employed when the speaker describes the world as “TREF,” using a Yiddish term to convey its trifling and worthless nature. This figurative language enhances the sense of chaos and confusion prevalent in the world the speaker no longer cares for.
- Metaphor: The poet utilizes metaphor in Delmore’s song, “I am the Brooklyn poet Delmore Schwartz, Harms and the child I sing, two parents’ torts.” Here, Delmore symbolizes the poet, and his personal struggles are represented metaphorically as the “torts” or wrongdoings of two parents. This metaphorical expression adds depth and complexity to Delmore’s identity and the challenges he faced.
- Allusion: The use of allusion is present in the mention of Delmore being a “Brooklyn poet.” This allusion not only refers to Delmore’s actual background but also invokes the idea of a poet emerging from a specific place, suggesting a connection between personal experiences and artistic expression.
The poem’s structure, a sestet with an irregular rhyme scheme, contributes to its unique form and style. This structure allows Berryman to convey his message concisely while maintaining a sense of unpredictability and emotional intensity.
The world is gradually becoming a place
where I do not care to be anymore. Can Delmore die?
I don’t suppose
in all them years a day went ever by
without a loving thought for him. Welladay.
In the brightness of his promise,
In the first stanza of the poem, John Berryman conveys a powerful message about the speaker’s growing disillusionment with the world. The opening line, “This world is gradually becoming a place,” suggests a gradual transformation or deterioration, indicating a shift from a previously desirable state. This sets the tone for the speaker’s discontent and dissatisfaction.
The phrase “where I do not care to be anymore” reveals the speaker’s emotional detachment and his lack of interest or investment in the world. This sentiment implies a sense of alienation and disconnection from the changing environment. The speaker’s apathy toward the world reflects a deeper dissatisfaction and a longing for something more fulfilling.
The line “Can Delmore die?” introduces the theme of mortality and serves as a rhetorical question. The speaker’s contemplation of Delmore’s mortality indicates his disbelief or resistance to the idea that someone significant in the speaker’s life could cease to exist. This question also suggests the enduring impact and significance of Delmore in the speaker’s thoughts and emotions.
The following line, “I don’t suppose,” conveys the speaker’s hesitation and uncertainty. It suggests that the speaker has not entertained the possibility of Delmore’s death throughout the years, further emphasizing the depth of their attachment and the importance of Delmore in his life.
The phrase “without a loving thought for him” portrays the enduring nature of the speaker’s affection and care for Delmore. It reveals a consistent presence of fond memories and emotions associated with Delmore. This line signifies the significance of their relationship and underscores the impact Delmore had on the speaker’s life.
The concluding word, “Welladay,” adds a mournful and lamenting tone to the stanza. It serves as an expression of sorrow or regret, further emphasizing the speaker’s deep emotional connection to Delmore and his somber contemplation of the world’s changing nature.
unstained, I saw him thro’ the mist of the actual
and grief too astray for tears.
In the poem’s second stanza, John Berryman continues to convey the speaker’s admiration and emotional connection to Delmore Schwartz, emphasizing their shared experiences and the impact Delmore had on his life.
The line “unstained, I saw him thro’ the mist of the actual” portrays Delmore as a figure untouched by the flaws and imperfections of the world. The use of “the mist of the actual” suggests a separation between the mundane reality and Delmore’s exceptional qualities. This image evokes a sense of purity and idealism associated with Delmore.
The subsequent lines, “blazing with insight, warm with gossip,” further emphasize Delmore’s exceptional qualities. “Blazing with insight” conveys Delmore’s brilliance and intellectual depth, suggesting his ability to perceive and understand the world on a profound level. The phrase “warm with gossip” portrays Delmore’s affability and social engagement, highlighting his ability to connect with others on a personal level.
The reference to their time at Harvard is significant, as it symbolizes a period of intellectual growth and personal development. The line “thro’ all our Harvard years” indicates that their bond was formed during this formative period. It suggests a shared journey of discovery and the cultivation of their identities as both individuals and emerging figures within their respective fields.
The mention of getting Delmore out of a police station in Washington adds a touch of intrigue and highlights the speaker’s loyalty and willingness to support Delmore in difficult situations. This anecdote further underscores the strength of their connection and the speaker’s deep investment in Delmore’s well-being.
The phrase “the world is TREF” introduces a Yiddish term, implying that the world has become trifling, worthless, or chaotic. This expression reflects the speaker’s disillusionment with the state of the world, reinforcing the theme introduced in the first stanza.
The concluding line, “and grief too astray for tears,” suggests that the speaker’s grief over Delmore’s death is too overwhelming and disorienting to be expressed through tears. It implies a profound emotional impact, rendering traditional expressions of sorrow inadequate.
Through vivid imagery and personal anecdotes, Berryman conveys the speaker’s admiration for Delmore, emphasizing his exceptional qualities and the depth of their connection. The stanza explores themes of idealism, intellectual growth, loyalty, disillusionment with the world, and the overwhelming nature of grief.
I imagine you have heard the terrible news,
when he was young and gift-strong.
In the third stanza of “Dream Song 149,” John Berryman conveys the message of loss and grief as the speaker delivers the devastating news of Delmore Schwartz’s death.
The opening line, “I imagine you have heard the terrible news,” establishes a sense of anticipation and prepares the reader for the tragic revelation to come. This line also implies a sense of shared knowledge or collective awareness of Delmore’s demise, emphasizing the impact of his passing.
The phrase “that Delmore Schwartz is dead, miserably & alone” strikes a somber and melancholic tone. The adverbs “miserably” and “alone” underscore the tragic circumstances surrounding Delmore’s death, suggesting that he may have experienced emotional or personal suffering in his final moments. This evokes a sense of sympathy and highlights the speaker’s concern for Delmore’s well-being.
The mention of Delmore singing a song adds a poignant layer to the stanza. The line “‘I am the Brooklyn poet Delmore Schwartz'” introduces a direct quote from the song, emphasizing Delmore’s identification with his hometown and his artistic persona. The repetition of his name reinforces his individuality and significance as a poet.
The phrase “‘Harms and the child I sing, two parents’ torts'” further illustrates Delmore’s song. This line suggests that Delmore’s poetic expression revolved around the themes of personal struggles and the pain caused by his parents. It implies a sense of vulnerability and emotional depth within Delmore’s work.
The concluding line, “When he was young and gift-strong,” reflects Delmore’s youthful vigor and creative prowess. This line evokes a sense of nostalgia and emphasizes Delmore’s early promise and potential as a gifted poet. It adds a bittersweet quality to the stanza, highlighting the contrast between Delmore’s past brilliance and the tragedy of his untimely death.
This third stanza conveys the theme of loss and explores the emotional impact of Delmore Schwartz’s death. It highlights the speaker’s awareness of the tragic circumstances, their connection to Delmore through his song, and the complexity of his poetic identity. The stanza evokes a sense of mourning, reflecting on the loss of a talented poet and the enduring significance of his artistic contributions.
The poem is titled ‘Dream Song 149′ to indicate that it is part of a larger collection of poems by John Berryman known as the “Dream Songs.” The numbering suggests that it is one of the many dream songs composed by the poet.
‘Dream Song 149’ triggers feelings of disillusionment, loss, grief, and nostalgia. The speaker’s disillusionment with the world, the news of Delmore’s death, and the reminiscence of their shared experiences evoke a sense of sadness and longing.
The speaker in the poem is the persona created by John Berryman. While it is not explicitly stated, the speaker appears to be someone who had a close personal relationship with Delmore Schwartz and deeply mourns his death.
The tone of ‘Dream Song 149’ is melancholic and mournful. The speaker’s disillusionment with the world, the mention of Delmore’s death, and the somber reminiscences create an overall tone of sadness and lamentation.
If you enjoyed this poem, you may also wish to explore the following other John Berryman poems:
- ‘Dream Song 14’ – a short poem, is one of the poet’s most popular and anthologized. It was published in his 1964 volume, 77 Dream Songs, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
- ‘Henry’s Understanding’ – is a chilling and image-rich description of Berryman’s state of mind towards the end of his life as he contemplated suicide.
- ‘The Ball Poem’ – initially appears simple, but it’s actually quite impactful and intense the deeper one digs into the content.