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Freud was some wrong about dreams

Poem ca. 1967 by John Berryman

Freud was some wrong about dreams, or almost all;
besides his insights grand, he thought that dreams were a transcript
of childhood & the day before,
censored of course: a transcript:
even his lesser insight were misunderstood & became a bore
except for the knowing & troubled by the Fall.

Grand Jewish ruler, custodian of the past,
our paedegogue to whip us into truth,
I sees your long story,
tyrannical & triumphant all-wise at last
you wholly failed to take into account youth
& had no interest in your glory.

I tell you, Sir, you have enlightened but
you have misled us: a dream is a panorama
of the whole mental life,
I took one once to forty-three structures, that
accounted in each for each word: I did not yell 'mama'
nor did I take it out on my wife.

This is #327 of Berryman's Dream Songs--a series (or one loose epic poem) published in two parts. Part 1, titled simply 77 Dream Songs, won him the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1964; this piece is from part 2, His Toy, His Dream, His Rest: 308 Dream Songs (New York, 1968).

Though fascinating, they're not dream songs. Not songs, not telling dreams, not poems appearing in dreams. They seem to contain very little dream material at all. Feverish, playful and wild, they're more like acid than dreaming.

However, Berryman spent the whole year before he began his epic series doing exactly what he claims here: fiercely scrutinizing every dream he had, coming up with many interpretations for the same facts. He concluded--as have most serious dreamworkers since Berryman's time--that Freud's rigid system was simply wrong.

As I see it, Berryman tried in Dream Songs to write poems catching the vivid shifty many-meaninged roller-coaster feel that he'd learned from his dreamwork. In this sense, as a series, or, better, as a style, I think Dream Songs really were dream-inspired.

I chose the poem above for its subject, of course; but it's atypical. Here's a fairer sample of the series--I'll open the book at random. Ah. Dream Song #191.

The autumn breeze was light & bright. A small bird
flew in the back door and the beagle got it
(half-beagle) on the second try.
My wife kills flies & feeds them to the dog,
five last night, plus one Rufus snapped herself.
This is a house of death

and one of Henry's oldest friends was killed,
it came on a friend' radio, this week,
whereat Henry wept.
All those deaths keep Henry pale & ill
and unable to sail through the autumn world & weak,
a disadvantage of surviving.

The leaves fall, lives fall, every little while
you can count with stirring love on a new loss
& an emptier place.
The style is black jade at all seasons, the style
is burning leaves and a shelving of moss
over each planted face.

LISTS AND LINKS: dream poems - Freud - dreamwork - dogs - death - grief

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