Photo credit: Tom Berthiaume
John Berryman was born John Smith in McAlester, Oklahoma, on October 25, 1914.
He received an undergraduate degree from Columbia College in 1936 and
attended Cambridge University on a fellowship. He taught at Wayne
State University in Detroit and went on to occupy posts at Harvard and
Princeton. From 1955 until his death in 1972, he was a professor at
the University of Minnesota.
His early work was published in a volume entitled Five Young
American Poets in 1940 and reflects the influences of the
Irish and British poets W. B. Yeats,
W. H. Auden, Gerard Manley
Hopkins, and the Americans Hart
Crane and Ezra Pound.
Tremendously erudite and a brilliant teacher, Berryman in his early
workPoems (1942) and The Dispossessed
(1948)displayed great technical control in poems that remained
firmly rooted in the conventions of the time.
It was not until the publication of Homage to Mistress
Bradstreet in 1956, when he was already in his forties, that he
won widespread recognition and acclaim as a boldly original and
innovative poet. Nevertheless, no one was prepared for the innovation
that would follow, a collection that would seal Berryman's reputation
as an essential American original: 77 Dream Songs, which
was published in 1964 and awarded a Pulitzer Prize, unveiled the
unforgettable and irreppressible alter egos "Henry" and "Mr.
Bones" in a sequence of sonnet-like poems whose wrenched syntax,
scrambled diction, extraordinary leaps of language and tone, and wild
mixture of high lyricism and low comedy plumbed the extreme reaches of
a human soul and psyche. In succeeding years Berryman added to the
sequence, until there were nearly four hundred collected as The
But the psyche that had been plumbed could not bear the strain;
Berryman, who never recovered from the childhood shock of his father's
suicide, was prone to emotional instability and heavy drinking
throughout his life. Tragically, in 1972, he died by throwing himself
off a bridge in Minneapolis.
John Berryman was elected a Fellow of The Academy of American Poets
in 1966 and served as a Chancellor from 1968 until his death.
A Selected Bibliography
77 Dream Songs (1964)
Berryman's Sonnets (1967)
Collected Poems 1937-1971 (1989)
Delusions, Etc. (1972)
Henry's Fate and Other Poems (1977)
His Thoughts Made Pockets & the Plane Buckt (1958)
His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (1968)
Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956)
Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and Other Poems (1968)
Love and Fame (1970)
Selected Poems (1972)
Short Poems (1967)
The Dispossessed (1948)
The Dream Songs (1969)
Stephen Crane: A Critical Biography (1950)
The Arts of Reading (1960)
The Freedom of the Poet (1976)