The Dream Songs: Poems (FSG Classics) (Paperback)

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The Dream Songs: Poems (FSG Classics) By John Berryman, Daniel Swift (Editor), Michael Hofmann (Introduction by) Cover Image
By John Berryman, Daniel Swift (Editor), Michael Hofmann (Introduction by)
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Staff Reviews

There is only one true test for deciding upon a favorite book of poetry, and it can be put in the form of two simple questions: 1) Which book have you read and re-read until the pages are dog-eared, the binding hopelessly cracked and frayed? 2) Which book will you recommend without hesitation, but never lend? John Berryman's The Dream Songs is my choice. I first read it during the 1960's and haven't stopped reading it since. Berryman's poetry contains a world's worth of insight and pain and love and hate and humor. It is the chronicle of a brilliant, troubled man confronting the chaos of his life with the only weapon he has—meticulously chosen words. In praising John Berger's novel To the Wedding, Michael Ondaatje once wrote: 'Wherever I live in the world, I know I will have this book with me.' That is the highest praise imaginable, and it is how I feel about The Dream Songs. — Bob Gray

Berryman invented his own poetic form with semi-specific rules: each Dream Song consists of three stanzas, six lines each, with irregular rhyme schemes and a short closing line. Henry, the collection’s fictional narrator, perpetually despondent and grieving some unstated loss, seems to have split himself down the middle: He sometimes switches between first and third person narration within the span of a single poem, and the only other character refers to Henry as “Mr. Bones.” Heavy and mesmerizing. — Joe Michon-Huneau


The complete Dream Songs--hypnotic, seductive, masterful--as thrilling to read now as they ever were

John Berryman's The Dream Songs are perhaps the funniest, saddest, most intricately wrought cycle of poems by an American in the twentieth century. They are also, more simply, the vibrantly sketched adventures of a uniquely American antihero named Henry. Henry falls in and out of love, and is in and out of the hospital; he sings of joy and desire, and of beings at odds with the world. He is lustful; he is depressed.

And while Henry is breaking down and cracking up and patching himself together again, Berryman is doing the same thing to the English language, crafting electric verses that defy grammar but resound with an intuitive truth: "if he had a hundred years," Henry despairs in "Dream Song 29," "& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time / Henry could not make good."

This volume collects both 77 Dream Songs, which won Berryman the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, and their continuation, His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, which was awarded the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize in 1969. The Dream Songs are witty and wild, an account of madness shot through with searing insight, winking word play, and moments of pure, soaring elation. This is a brilliantly sustained and profoundly moving performance that has not yet-and may never be-equaled.

About the Author

John Berryman (1914-1972) was an American poet and scholar. He won the Pulitzer Prize for 77 Dream Songs in 1965 and the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize for His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, a continuation of the Dream Songs, in 1969.

Daniel Swift teaches at the New College of the Humanities in London. His first book, Bomber County, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Guardian First Book award, and his essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the New Statesman, and Harper’s.

Michael Hofmann is a poet and frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review, and is widely regarded as one of the world's foremost translators of works from German to English. His original poetry collections include One Lark, One Horse and Where Have You Been? He has translated Willy Peter Reese's A Stranger to Myself, Joseph Roth's The Tale of the 1002nd Night, Herta Muller's The Land of the Green Plums, and Gottfried Benn's Impromptus. Hofman lives in London.

Praise For…

“I'd be shucking my obligation not to . . . make a renewed case for ‘The Dream Songs.' It's a book that collects Berryman's original 77 dream songs and adds the further 308 he later wrote. This new edition includes a fond, funny and brilliant introduction by the poet and translator Michael Hofmann.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“The character of Henry [the hero of The Dream Songs] is a permanent addition to our literature.” —James Schevill

“A major achievement . . . [Berryman] has written an elegy on his brilliant generation and, in the process, he has also written an elegy on himself.” —A. Alvarez, The Observer

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374534554
ISBN-10: 0374534551
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 21st, 2014
Pages: 464
Language: English
Series: FSG Classics