Study Guide

Dream Song 14 What's Up With the Title?

By John Berryman

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What's Up With the Title?

On the surface, "Dream Song 14" seems like a pretty simple little title. And, in some sense, it is. But since we're all about digging deeper, let's break it down and see if we can't uncover something more.

The "dream" in the title indicates that this poem deals with something other than reality. Like, the stuff that happens when you go to sleep and start flying over the city of San Francisco in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume looking for some old-fashioned Evil to vanquish. (What? No one ever dreamed about that. Nuh-uh. Not us.) And though Berryman is placing us squarely in Dreamland with this title, how do we really know we're awake right now? Dun dun dun! Anyway, this part of the title prepares us for what's to come. It lets us know that we should expect the unexpected—like that dog that shows up and then disappears all in the last stanza.

A "song" is something sung. Right. But this part of the title also tells us that sound is important to this poem, because that's why people sing instead of just talking, right? Because they like to make melodies! So, uncoincidentally, do poets. Most poems are as much about sound, rhythm, and makin' music as they are about content. And this poem is no exception.

"14" is, well, the number fourteen. This number lets us know that there are others of these "Dream Songs" floating around. (In fact, Berryman wrote nearly four hundred "Dream Songs." Wowza.)

All in all, the title prepares us to enter a world that is at once pretty wacky—even illogical—and familiar to us. (Everyone dreams, right?) "Dream Song 14" definitely delivers on both those promises, bringing us a whole lotta wackiness and a whole lotta odd familiarity.

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