Study Guide

Dream Song 29 Summary

By John Berryman

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Dream Song 29 Summary

Okay—if you already skimmed "Dream Song 29" you might have gotten the sense that this poem is simply the unhinged ravings of a lunatic mind. Well, the speaker might not exactly be the most stable-Mable, but there's actually lots more going on. First off, one of the reasons this poem is a little slippery is that it is, as the title tells us, from the world of dreams. And we all know what a mixed up world that can be. So, don't worry if things like linear narrative and meaning don't take shape right away. Just enjoy the ride.

In the first stanza, we are introduced to Henry and told that he's sad—that there is something heavy "on Henry's heart." So far, so good. It's the kind of sadness that he just can't seem to get clear of, even "if he had a hundred years." This guy is seriously sad. Every time Henry thinks his sadness might be fading, it starts again.

In the second stanza, things get a little cryptic. But, if we strip it down to the most basic level, we can see that Henry has something else on his mind besides that persistent sadness we learned about in stanza one—something he feels guilty about.

So far, Berryman has mixed up a pretty potent bummer-cocktail: one part intense sadness, one part guilt. What could we add to really push it over the edge into full-on tragic? How about just a splash of violence? Sure enough, things get a little gruesome in the third stanza. There's mention of hacked bodies and hidden pieces—pretty dark stuff. However, even though Henry thought he might have done some terrible things, it turns out he never did. So, it's a happy ending. Okay, maybe happy is too strong. Henry is sad and he feels a sense of crushing quilt, but he's no killer. Still, we probably wouldn't respond to Henry's Facebook friend request.

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