Study Guide

Dream Song 29 Guilt and Blame

By John Berryman

Guilt and Blame

And there is another thing he has in mind
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly, (7-9)

There's that sadness from the first stanza but there's also "another thing" that Henry is dealing with. Whatever it is, it's the thing that is making him feel guilty. He likens it to the reproachful gaze from a face in a Sienese portrait (see the discussion in the "Detailed Summary" section for more… face time). Henry's guilt, like his sadness, is beyond the ability of time to soothe. And it seems to be getting worse. 100 years wouldn't help ease Henry's feelings of sadness in stanza 1. Now, in the second stanza, 1000 years won't do the trick on the guilt. Okay, John. We get it. Time does not heal all wounds.

[…] Ghastly,
with open eyes, he attends, blind. (9-10)

Ummm. What? Well let's think about this for a second. "He" is likely Henry. He "attends" to (pays careful attention to, listens to) that reproachful face, that other thing he has in mind. But he is blind. Blind? Well, let's back up a little. That "Ghastly" at the end of line 9 likely refers to Henry's overall condition. This guy isn't in very good shape. He's unwell. He is aware of the reproachful gaze, that face, he pays careful attention to it "with open eyes," but he is blind to anything beyond. That heavy sadness and guilt has blinded Henry to anything but these feelings and the look of reproach from that (and probably every) face he encounters.
And consider this: when are your eyes open but you are blind (unseeing)? Hint: think about the title. Yup. You got it. When you're dreaming, your eyes are open in the dream but you are blind to reality (your eyes are, in reality shut; you are sleeping). Hmm…

All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;
thinking. (11-12)

School bells, church bells, a ringing alarm clock—bells are always making us aware of time and the passing of time (and they can have a way of making us feel a little guilty too—because we are late or we slept in or we didn't go to church). They also often let us know when time is up, when it is "too late." The bells in stanza 2 tell Henry what he seems to already know: that it is too late for him to change anything. Whatever it is he feels guilty about isn't going to change. What's done is done. What's more, Henry is told (either by the speaker-himself or the clocks) that it's time to buck up. Crying isn't going to change anything. Only his mind, only thinking, can offer him a chance to be free from the sadness and guilt he feels.

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