Dream Song 14
by John Berryman
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
- Okay, we have to admit that these lines gave us some serious flashbacks to our childhoods. Whenever we were like, "Mom and Dad, we're bored," our parents would say, "Go play outside or read a book or something! What, are you lacking in imagination?" And that's basically what's going on in the first few lines here. The speaker's own mom has (repeatedly) lectured him that saying you're bored is a sign of weak character—it means you lack "Inner Resources."
- But if we look closely at line 2, we see that the speaker's mom doesn't say you should never be bored. She just says you should never confess to being bored. That's a totally different thing, right? In fact, to say, "Don't confess you're bored!" implies that you're already bored. Maybe the mom knows more about this boredom stuff than she lets on? She seems to be echoing what the speaker says in the first line, "life is boring"; and like the speaker went on to tell us in line 2, she thinks it's better not to talk about it. If there were a Bored People Club, the first rule would be: you do not talk about being bored.
- In line 8, the speaker resigns to accepting his weakness. He admits that he must be lacking those inner resources his mom used to go on about because the fact remains, he's bored and he's going to talk about it. And not just 6th period Geometry bored. This guy is "heavy" bored. Shmoop likes this description of bored as "heavy." It kind of fits the feeling don't you think? That droopy, sluggish, stay-in-bed feeling certainly isn't light.
- And remember those repeated end words ("yearn") in the first stanza? Well, John's up to his old tricks again, but this time he's putting us to sleep with the repeated initial words in lines 7 and 8: "inner resources." The longer this poem goes on, the more we can really empathize with the speaker. We can almost hear him say, "If I have to listen to my mom talk about Inner Resources one more time I'm gonna…" To which we reply, "We feel your pain, pal."
- These lines also give us a taste of Berryman's humor. It's kind of funny when our speaker concludes that he has no inner resources. It's like we reponded to our mothers' telling us to go play outside by saying, "Indubitably, mother. I will do that post haste. You are quite correct in that, if I declare I am bored, I have no imagination." Okay, it's not shoot-milk-out-your-nose funny, but it makes us smile a little. That's what Berryman's humor is often like: subtle, and a little dark.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
- These lines begin to detail what bores our speaker. The first item on our speaker's list of bores is "peoples." This is a good time to get out your official Shmoop-issue Literary Microscope (if you didn't get one, you can use ours). Let's consider what the addition of one little "s" does to the word "people" and how it changes this first item on the list.
- If Shmoop said, "People bore us,"—which we never would because we are by nature people persons—what would that statement mean to you?
- You'd probably think that we can't find anyone around this here office (or even, this here world) that we think is interesting. Because everyone we meet bores us on some level. This is, no doubt, a pretty broad statement and would indicate a pretty empty, unfulfilled existence. But wait, Berryman found a way to make it even worse.
- The addition of the "s," transforming "people" into "peoples," changes the whole enchilada. Now, we don't think of a bunch of boring individuals. Instead, we think about entire groups of people: like, whole nations with names like Yawnland and Your Least Favorite Teachertown. If Berryman had stuck with the generic noun "people," we might feel like there was a chance that someone, somewhere, could come along and work the speaker up into a tizzy. But since he's basically writing off all bipeds with those human brain things in one fell swoop, we feel a little sorry for the fella.
- Next up on the list of bores: "literature." As you might imagine, this one really irks Shmoop. How could literature be boring? We know, you're on the speaker's side on this one. But we are still going to try to change your mind.
- Once again, the speaker declares his boredom of "literature" in the broadest possible terms. Literature includes everything from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to The Song of Songs. It's the whole ball of word-wax. (That was gross and unnecessary, sorry. Got bored of ourselves for a second.)
- The speaker does get a little more specific at the end of line 10. He singles out "great literature" as especially boring. Why would anyone do such a thing?!
- Well, by specifying that great literature is especially boring to the speaker, Berryman makes sure we can't mistake the speaker for someone that just hasn't read the good stuff yet. We can't imagine that, perhaps, the speaker just doesn't know what's out there in the world of literature. The speaker has been there, done that, and would like for you to talk to the hand. Whatever.
- Anywho, take a look at the initial and end words in line 10. You guessed it: "literature" and "literature" again. More repetition is at work here. And the sound of these words really isn't doing anything special for us. This repeated pattern of repetition (haha, we're funny) just makes us feel like we're being forced to read the same thing over and over again. If all great literature were written using the same few words, we might feel the same way the speaker does about all this great books business: bo-ring! We might even take a hint from this dude's cavalier exit from class.