On today’s date, in 1972, we said goodbye to John Berryman. Or rather, he said goodbye to us, offering a brief wave before jumping off the side of Minneapolis’s Washington Avenue Bridge. “[T]ired of the winter, & haircuts, & a squeamish comfy ruin-prone national mind,” he hit the riverbank, which was frozen, much like it is today. So much went down at once: the horn-rimmed glasses, the blank check in his pocket, the brain that could crumple a syntax “with a sudden need.”
And maybe we don’t believe in an afterlife, but we can still wish for Berryman some final rest, some peace that passeth all understanding. At ease, songless Henry! And yet the troubling fact remains: “the world is places where he will not go this wintertide or again.”
It seems silly to rank poets on anything other than a personal scale. So I’ll make no claim for Berryman as the greatest poet of his generation. But I will say that he’s the poet who has, more than any other, haunted my days and chilled my dreaming nights. He’s a goad and a ghost. He’s the patron saint of the polar vortex.
From Dream Song 85:
It’s cold here.
The cold is ultimating. The cold is cold.
I am—I should be held together by—
but I am breaking up
and Henry now has come to a full stop—
vanisht his vision, if there was, & fold
him over himself quietly.