Dream Song 14
by John Berryman
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
- Right away, the speaker declares that life is a bore. Not really the kinda guy you'd like to do dinner with; he seems like a real downer. But we do get the feeling that the speaker is letting us in on something special, confiding in us. We, as readers, feel included. Why?
- Well, dude does use the word, "friends," which gives us the warm and fuzzies. This direct address to the reader draws us into the poem, making us feel like the speaker is talking to us. It makes us feel like part of the "in" group.
- As you can see, this first line includes two complete sentences. The first sentence makes a big declaration: "Life is boring." But the second changes the tone a little; it tells us that we should keep this declaration to ourselves. Interesting. Okay, let's keep sharing all of the secrets in our super secret reader-writer Game Day huddle, Mr. Berryman. Tell us more, tell us more…!
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
- Having already admitted that he shouldn't say life is boring, the speaker goes on to give some examples of the excitement life has to offer.
- The speaker looks toward the natural world for examples of the thrills he knows are there, but can't seem to get himself stoked about. First there's lightning. Nothing says excitement like a billion volts of electricity flying through the sky, right? The movement of the sea, all that sloshing and crashing, that can be pretty exciting too. Even Georgy Clooney thinks so. The speaker describes the sea as yearning, like the sea's movement is reaching out for something it can't possess: the land? A boat? Swimmers? It's tough to say.
- Here, Berryman is using personification to describe the movement of the ocean. He gives the sea human qualities; in this case, he assigns the sea the ability to yearn. This personification allows us to connect a little more directly with the sea and perhaps consider yearnings of our own. Do you want for the cute guy or girl in your fifth period math class? World domination? Whatever it is, we're guessing you're wanting for something.
- Once we read line 3, we can see how the sea's personification in line 2 was foreshadowing the parallel Berryman is drawing between the sea and us human folk. In line 3, he draws a direct connection between the natural world's awesomeness and the exhilaration of human life. We have the same potential to "flash and yearn" as the sky and the sea. Betchya never thought of that before, huh?
- Check out the end words—"yearn" much? Berryman wants to make sure this yearning comes through loud and clear, so he repeats it at the end of each line. But by repeating this word on consecutive lines, he also makes yearning seem kind of. Well. Boring. Hm…
- If everything in life—from us common people to great, potentially cataclysmic forces like the ocean—can both flash and yearn, is there anything out there that's sacred or special? Guess not. Because it's literally everywhere, all the flashing and yearning starts to seem mundane.
Through repeated exposure, the speaker becomes desensitized to these dazzling bits of living, you know? Kinda like when you see the fifteenth fight erupt in one half-hour episode of Bad Girls Club. Enough already, right? (Yes, we watched one episode. Accidentally. We swear, we thought it was PBS.)