Study Guide

Dream Song 29 Time

By John Berryman

Time

"Dream Song 29" is an 18-line poem that has at least five references to time. That's a lot of time spent on time for such a short poem. It's safe to say that Berryman wanted us to consider the tick and the tock of passing time when we read this poem. It seems that time might not be the all-healing remedy people keep telling us it is. Maybe it doesn't heal all wounds after all.

  • Lines 1-4: Right from the get-go, Berryman hits us with time. He tells us that Henry is so sad, that even "a hundred years & more" wouldn't change his mood. That's some serious sadness. Berryman makes sure that we consider time's inability to heal Henry's heavy heart by ending lines 2 with "years" and line 3 with "time." Having these time references (in fact the word "time" itself) hanging out there at the end of the lines insures that "time" gets our attention. It also makes Henry's sadness seem even more desperate and profound. It's as if Berryman anticipated that the reader's response to Henry's sadness would be the ol' "keep your chin up and in time you'll feel happy again," speech and he derails it before we can even get it out. Henry is sad, and no—time won't help. So don't bother singing the theme song to Annie. You know the one.
  • Line 6: Take a look at that word dangling off the end of line 6. What do you think of, or hear in your mind, when you read "chime"? Okay, some of you might have said wind chimes, but we bet a lot of you said a clock. Clocks chime, right? And clocks are clear symbols of, you guessed it, passing time. If you're still unconvinced that Berryman wanted us to think about time when he used "chime," take a look at the end of line 3 again. Time. Chime. Time. Yup. They rhyme. This makes the connection between these words even stronger. Clock chimes win. Wind chimes lose. Sorry.
  • Lines 8-9: Things have escalated. We went from 100 years in the first stanza to 1000 years in the second. And here again, just as 100 years would do nothing to ease Henry's sadness, 1000 years would "fail to blur" that reproachful "Sienese face." All-powerful time seems kind of, well, powerless against Henry's guilt and sadness—yet another tough break for our boy, Henry.
  • Line 11: The bells in this line, the ones saying "too late," echo the chimes from the first stanza. And, like their friends from stanza 1, they represent time. Not convinced? Well, think about it. Where do we often hear bells: school bells, church bells, boxing bells (you know, the bell they ring to start and end a round in boxing?). And what do all these bells do? Ding, ding, ding, you got it. They mark time: time to go to class, church, or the hospital. Berryman wants to make sure that time is chiming and ringing throughout the poem.

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