|dc.description.abstract||"The soul has ears": Music and Movement in the Poetry of John Berryman
Berryman’s musical interest is consistently remarked on by readers of his work, but remains vastly understudied, though it touches almost every aspect of his poetic project. The poet’s obsession with “hearing” was one that spilled across from one art form into another, and his musical enthusiasm expresses itself in a way that is all-pervasive. Berryman’s work represents a deep enquiry into the influence of music on the mind and body, as well as its impact on the structures of the poem. As early as The Dispossessed (1948), his first major publication, the song emerges as an emotional yet social medium, and the poet’s interest in the human voice as a form of musical embodiment remains a feature until his final posthumous collection, Delusions, Etc., published in 1972. In fact, all of Berryman’s major poetic works demonstrate a general, and associated, interest in musical personalities – such as Beethoven, Bach, and Bessie Smith – particularly those whose experience Berryman felt most resonated with his own. Various musical traditions collide energetically within his work (most famously in The Dream Songs ), and his thematic preoccupations often mark the site of deeper structural engagement. In many of these published works, though particularly Berryman’s Sonnets (1967), there is a further enquiry into the relationship between word and music and an examination of the musical integrity of language per se. Berryman’s musical explorations touch on almost all of his central themes: love, loss and the ability of artistic form to shape to human experience. Across his work, the poet uses music to express both personal and political traumas, and often through it he discovers a means of transcendence. Moreover, Berryman’s sense of memory, terminality and creative legacy emerges consistently in connection with music, themes that take precedence in his final two collections, Love & Fame (1970) and Delusions, Etc. (1972).
Reading Berryman’s major books in chronological order, this study demonstrates how music enters the poetry and comes to shape the trajectory of his career. Indeed, as key archival findings show, some of the most notable developments in Berryman’s poetry can be understood as having their basis in his musical thinking, which allowed the poet to step outside his own discipline and enter into a broader creative continuum.||en