Monday, April 8, 2024

Dream Song 4

 Zoe Byszynski

        Dream Song 4 by John Berryman, is narrated by Henry as he tries to contain his lust for a woman who caught his eye at a restaurant. Dream Song 4 is part of a collection of Berryman's larger works (77 Dream Songs and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest) where each dream song consists of three stanzas with six lines per stanza. The narrator, Henry, is a self loathing man and depressed man (loosely autobiographical of Berryman himself). Sir/Mr. Bones is the idiot questioner and voice of reason who speaks with a black dialect as a form of literary minstrelsy. In the first stanza, Henry notices a woman eating dinner with her husband and three other men across the restaurant and he instantly wants to ravish her. In the second stanza, Henry loses hope, but Sir Bones tries to reassure him there's other fish in the sea. In the last stanza, he jealously criticizes the husband next to her, but in response starts criticizing himself for his desires. Berryman uses the external descriptions and internal narration to put Henry's desires at odds with his ability to get them.
        Henry's desire for the woman is based around her mysteriousness and forbiddenness. Notably when the woman glances at him "twice" it's emphasized with its own line showing how important the second glance is to Henry. It's as if he's trying to rationalize that the woman wants him back or else she shouldn't have looked again. Since he knows nothing of her personality, his fixation is with her body. For example, "What wonders is/she sitting on, over there?" draws attention to Henry's imagination. There could be anything between her legs, but the fact that he doesn't know is what fuels his lust. This begs the question, if Henry were alone with the woman fully naked would he still want her anymore?
        Societal rules hold Henry back from getting what he wants. The woman has a husband and they're both in public, which Henry acknowledges, "kept me from springing on her/or falling at her little feet." To that degree, Henry's superego is also what's holding him back. He says, "There ought to be a law against Henry." He's disgusted and disappointed with himself for the mere thought of what he wants to do to the woman. In fact, the poem itself is a Dream Song, suggesting even in dreams Henry can't get what he wants. Although Henry views it as neither of those things, he believes there's just an exterior force preventing him from getting what he wants. As he remarks, "She might as well be on Mars./ Where did it all go wrong?" He thinks the reason he can't get what he wants is due to a fundamental flaw of himself, but fails to realize not getting what you want is universal. Henry's character is a paradox of self loathing and self absorption.
        Thus, Henry's experience of unrequited desire highlights the conditions of longing and superego. Humans desire for what they can't, once they have it it's no longer "desire", Henry believes it's the world preventing him from getting what he wants, it's really himself and that's exactly why he wants it.

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