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CRITICISM "I AM FLEEING DOUBLE": DUALITY AND DIALECTIC IN THE DREAM SONGS I Andrew Hudgins JOHN BERRYMAN'S magnum opus, The Dream Songs, has remained one of the enigmas of modern poetry, a work more shifting and illusive than other booklength poems of its era: Paterson, The Maximus Poems, and perhaps Lowell's History. Critics have been confused as to whether to take The Dream Songs as a cohesive work of art or as an artistic autobiography written simultaneously with the living of the events described and consequently having no more, but no less, intrinsic form than that life being lived. In point of fact, The Dream Songs is not the "openended " poem some critics have understood it to be. Berryman did not add dream songs to the end of the sequence as William Carlos Williams added Book Five and proposed to add Book Six toPaterson after he had initially proclaimed the work complete in four books. If anything, The Dream Songs is "open-middled," since Berryman published whatis presently the final dream song, Song 385, as "The Last Dream Song: 161" in 1965, considerably before many of the poems in His Toy, His Dream, His Rest would have been written. Berryman knew, then, some five years before it was completed, how the volume was going to end, if indeed he hadn't known all along. Obviously, if the ending of the poem was determined before the sequence was halfcompleted, the author was free to organize within a predetermined framework his material into an artistic whole. Once that point is established, one is free to examine The Dream Songs for formal principles of structure and development.1 One of the major structural devices of The Dream Songs, and the one at which I plan to look, is the dialectic of opposites which do not synthesize or resolve, but rather exist in conflict, in ebb and flow, in cyclical movement. One quality will be predominant at one moment , the other the next. When the opposites, be they body and mind or the drive-to-life and the drive-to-death, are present in Henry's psyche, they do not cancel out one another; they clash ferociously, and Henry can barely contain them. If, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, the quality that distinguishes a first-rate intellect is the ability to hold simultaneously opposing ideas and still be able to function, Henry is modern man courageously oscillating from one side to the other of that proverbially thin line that separates genius from insanity. Though he realizes his divided nature, admitting "I am fleeing double" (Song 114), Henry cannot escape the dualities that pervade his life. In this last instance he is fleeing the past and The Missouri Review ยท 93 future and attempting, not very successfully, to live in the present. Past and future, then, represent yet another duality that Henry is trying to resolve by finding a viable third alternative. From the title and the dedications to the components ofHenry's personality and the cyclical movements of the "plot," duality permeates the poem, which recounts the story of Henry's life. Not the least of the conundrums of the book is its title. The meaning of the title has been, and will no doubt continue to be, the subject of considerable speculation. I want merely to observe that the phrase "dream song" unites in a felicitiously uneasy marriage two terms normally antithetical. A dream is the seemingly unorganized welling up of the unconscious and perhaps of unconscious truth. Song, on the other hand, is the organized, rational product of a human mind, the art of a "maker" who produces, if you will, conscious truth. Berryman recognizes both impulses in himself. The desire to create the elegantly controlled art ofBaudelaire ("if one had the skill") is matched by an admiration of the spasmodic brilliance of Thoreau and Poe: O formal & elaborate I choose you but I love too the spare, the hit-or-miss, the mad. I sometimes can't always tell them apart (Song 265) Theinternal poet ofThe Dream Songs, Henry, is both bard and maker. In extremis he goes to pieces, and the pieces keep on writing, oblivious to, and peaceful...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 91-110
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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