Janna Levin reads Berryman, a poem by W.S. Merwin

From the eclectic and artistically stimulating site Brain Pickings comes a poem offered as a tribute, fittingly presented under the theme how to stay sane as an artist. The poem, Berryman, was written by W.S. Merwin, who was mentored by John Allyn Berryman in the years following World War II. It is read by author (and astrophysicist) Janna Levin.

John Allyn Berryman, photograph by  Jerry Bauer.

John Allyn Berryman, photograph by Jerry Bauer.

John Berryman was born in McAlester, Oklahoma in 1914. A major traumatic event, witnessing his father’s suicide at age 12, shaped his life dramatically and became a recurring theme in his poetry.

Following graduation from Columbia in 1936 and after later study at Cambridge University, Berryman gained recognition as a scholar with a biography of Stephen Crane and honed his skills as a poet, resulting in the 1948 release of The Dispossessed. His most celebrated work, 77 Dream Songs, was published in 1964, followed by a series of books that are often intimate and revealing confessional glimpses into his life

John Berryman’s life is often described as anguished, turbulent, and beset by numerous struggles that led to depression, alcoholism and eventually suicide. Berryman ended his life in 1972, jumping off a Minneapolis bridge on a cold winter day. His lifelong body of work provided inspiration for poets Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton, as well as others.

For more of Berryman’s poems, visit the Poetry Foundation.

I would recommend the cultivation of extreme indifference to both praise and blame because praise will lead you to vanity, and blame will lead you to self-pity, and both are bad for writers.
— John Berryman, advising young writers