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From John Berryman’s “Eleven Addresses to the Lord”

He, like Robert Lowell, was considered a key poet of the “confessional” school of poetry

              1

Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,

inimitable contriver,

endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,

thank you for such as it is my gift.

I have made up a morning prayer to you

containing with precision everything that most matters.

‘According to Thy will’ the thing begins.

It took me off & on two days. It does not aim at eloquence.

You have come to my rescue again & again

in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.

You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves

and I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.

Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea pigs:

how can I ‘love’ you?

I only as far as gratitude & awe

confidently & absolutely go.

I have no idea whether we live again.

It doesn’t seem likely

from either the scientific or the philosophical point of view

but certainly all things are possible to you,

and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection-appearances to Peter & to Paul

as I believe I sit in this blue chair.

Only that may have been a special case

to establish their initiatory faith.

Whatever your end may be, accept my amazement.

May I stand until death forever at attention

for any your least instruction or enlightenment.

I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty.

              2

Holy, as I suppose I dare to call you

without pretending to know anything about you

but infinite capacity everywhere & always

& in particular certain goodness to me.

Yours is the crumpling, to my sister-in-law terrifying thunder,

yours the candelabra buds sticky in Spring,

Christ’s mercy,

the gloomy wisdom of godless Freud:

yours the lost souls in ill-attended wards,

those agonized thro’ the world

It this instant of time, all evil men,

Belsen, Omaha Beach,—

incomprehensible to man your ways.

May be the Devil after all exists.

‘I don’t try to reconcile anything’ said the poet at eighty,

‘This is a damned strange world.’

Man is ruining the pleasant earth & man.

What at last, my Lord, will you allow?

Postpone till after my children’s deaths your doom

if it be thy ineffable, inevitable will.

I say ‘Thy kingdom come’, it means nothing to me.

Hast Thou prepared astonishments for man?

One sudden Coming? Many so believe.

So not, without knowing anything, do I.

              3

Sole watchman of the flying stars, guard me

against my flicker of impulse lust: teach me

to see them as sisters & daughters. Sustain

my grand endeavours: husbandship & crafting.

Forsake me not when my wild hours come;

grant me sleep nightly, grace soften my dreams;

achieve in me patience till the thing be done,

a careful view of my achievement come.

Make me from time to time the gift of the shoulder.

When all hurt nerves whine shut away the whiskey.

Empty my heart toward Thee.

Let me pace without fear the common path of death.

Cross am I sometimes with my little daughter:

fill her eyes with tears. Forgive me, Lord.

Unite my various soul,

sole watchman of the wide & single stars.

John Berryman

John Berryman (19141-1972) was an American poet and one of the most notable of the “Middle Generation” of poets, which included Delmore Schwartz, Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell. He also, like Lowell, was considered a key poet of the “confessional” school of poetry, which leveraged personal details as material for verse. Berryman’s most renowned work is the series of poems known as The Dream Songs. A student of poet and scholar Mark Van Doren, Berryman was early taught the literary tradition and traditional structures of poetry, although his later verse developed a more fluid and free-form style. Throughout his career, Berryman won most of the major poetry awards: the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize. Plagued by depression, alcoholism and infidelity (he was married three times) and despite a religious conversion of sorts, Berryman took his own life by jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.

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              1

Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,

inimitable contriver,

endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,

thank you for such as it is my gift.

I have made up a morning prayer to you

containing with precision everything that most matters.

‘According to Thy will’ the thing begins.

It took me off & on two days. It does not aim at eloquence.

You have come to my rescue again & again

in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.

You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves

and I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.

Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea pigs:

how can I ‘love’ you?

I only as far as gratitude & awe

confidently & absolutely go.

I have no idea whether we live again.

It doesn’t seem likely

from either the scientific or the philosophical point of view

but certainly all things are possible to you,

and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection-appearances to Peter & to Paul

as I believe I sit in this blue chair.

Only that may have been a special case

to establish their initiatory faith.

Whatever your end may be, accept my amazement.

May I stand until death forever at attention

for any your least instruction or enlightenment.

I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty.

              2

Holy, as I suppose I dare to call you

without pretending to know anything about you

but infinite capacity everywhere & always

& in particular certain goodness to me.

Yours is the crumpling, to my sister-in-law terrifying thunder,

yours the candelabra buds sticky in Spring,

Christ’s mercy,

the gloomy wisdom of godless Freud:

yours the lost souls in ill-attended wards,

those agonized thro’ the world

It this instant of time, all evil men,

Belsen, Omaha Beach,—

incomprehensible to man your ways.

May be the Devil after all exists.

‘I don’t try to reconcile anything’ said the poet at eighty,

‘This is a damned strange world.’

Man is ruining the pleasant earth & man.

What at last, my Lord, will you allow?

Postpone till after my children’s deaths your doom

if it be thy ineffable, inevitable will.

I say ‘Thy kingdom come’, it means nothing to me.

Hast Thou prepared astonishments for man?

One sudden Coming? Many so believe.

So not, without knowing anything, do I.

              3

Sole watchman of the flying stars, guard me

against my flicker of impulse lust: teach me

to see them as sisters & daughters. Sustain

my grand endeavours: husbandship & crafting.

Forsake me not when my wild hours come;

grant me sleep nightly, grace soften my dreams;

achieve in me patience till the thing be done,

a careful view of my achievement come.

Make me from time to time the gift of the shoulder.

When all hurt nerves whine shut away the whiskey.

Empty my heart toward Thee.

Let me pace without fear the common path of death.

Cross am I sometimes with my little daughter:

fill her eyes with tears. Forgive me, Lord.

Unite my various soul,

sole watchman of the wide & single stars.

John Berryman

John Berryman (19141-1972) was an American poet and one of the most notable of the “Middle Generation” of poets, which included Delmore Schwartz, Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell. He also, like Lowell, was considered a key poet of the “confessional” school of poetry, which leveraged personal details as material for verse. Berryman’s most renowned work is the series of poems known as The Dream Songs. A student of poet and scholar Mark Van Doren, Berryman was early taught the literary tradition and traditional structures of poetry, although his later verse developed a more fluid and free-form style. Throughout his career, Berryman won most of the major poetry awards: the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize. Plagued by depression, alcoholism and infidelity (he was married three times) and despite a religious conversion of sorts, Berryman took his own life by jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.

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