Study Guide

Dream Song 29 Stanza 2

By John Berryman

Stanza 2

Lines 7-10

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,
with open eyes, he attends, blind.

  • The second stanza begins with the speaker telling us that there is "another thing" that is bothering Henry in addition to that heavy, heavy sadness sitting on his heart.
  • Berryman uses a simile to describe this other thing that Henry "has in mind." It is "like a grave Sienese face." What?
  • Let's run this simile through Shmoop's super-handy simile clarifier. It breaks the simile up into little, easy to digest chunks (sounds gross, but it works).
  • First, we have the word "grave." In the context of the line, the word means serious or solemn and is describing the face's expression. This isn't the kind of face that would give you warm, fuzzy, happy feelings. You'd see this face and think bad stuff had happened or was about to happen.
  • In addition, when we see the word "grave," it's hard not to picture that other kind of grave—you know, the kind the zombies pop out of. Basically, "grave" gives us a lingering sense of death and doom. There isn't any way for this word to create happy, carefree feelings. 
  • Now, let's tackle that "Sienese face." The description likely refers to the Sienese School of painters. They were, among other things, known for a kind of blending of the human realm and the spiritual realm. The miraculous subject matter, the mixing of reality and the spiritual, often gives Sienese paintings a dream-like quality (Sound familiar? Remember, this is a dream song).
  • These guys also painted some pretty serious looking mugs. Take a look for yourself. 
  • This other thing that Henry has on his mind, besides that crushing sadness, haunts him like a never-ending stare from one of those Sienese paintings. It feels like that grave stare will be there for all time, judging, reproaching Henry for whatever naughty thing he has done.
  • Time also seems to be an issue here. In stanza one, the speaker says that even if he had 100 years, Henry couldn't shake the sadness. Then, in stanza two, he tells us that even 1000 years wouldn't fade the reproachful look of that "grave Sienese face."
  • We get the sense that these feelings Henry is having are inescapable. They are beyond even time's ability to soothe. Hey, Shmoop thought time was supposed to heal all wounds? We guess Henry's wounds are special. Henry's sadness and dread are timeless. Bummer.
  • "Ghastly" (meaning unwell, pale, almost ghost-like) in line 9 is describing Henry's state, his condition. It isn't good. "He attends" to (he listens closely, pays close attention to) that other thing he has on his mind, and it seems to be causing him some distress.
  • Whatever it is, it's stressing Henry out.
  • Henry's eyes are open, but he is "blind." He tries to see what it is that's bothering him, he attends to it, but he can't see what it is. Again, things seem kind of dream-like. You know how it is. You wake up from a dream feeling freaked out, but you can't quite remember what happened in the dream or even what it was that had you shaking in your footy pajamas in the first place.
  • (Don't worry. We won't tell anyone about your footy pajamas.)

Lines 11-12

All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;
thinking.

  • These bells echo those chimes in stanza 1. There is another echo in this stanza, too. The rhymes carry over from the first stanza (from "chime" and "time" to "mind" and "blind," and from "years" and "ears" to "years" and "tears"). Check out "Form and Meter" for more on that.
  • The chimes also signal Henry's returning sadness. These bells are saying, "too late."
  • We know what you're thinking: "Too late for what? Breakfast? The bus? A homework deadline?"
  • Let's see, maybe we can figure this out together. Let's think about where we often hear bells. Schools. Yes, maybe he's too late for class? But those tears at the end of the line seem like an overly dramatic reaction to being tardy.
  • Where else to we encounter bells? Yup, churches. And when do church bells and tears go together? If you said weddings, well, maybe. But this poem hasn't really set the tone for tears of joy. More likely, Berryman was going for a funeral vibe. It makes more sense with the heavy sadness he chose to start the poem.
  • This funeral-y feeling heightens that sense of death that started in stanza 1 with the word "grave." 
  • Back to our original question: too late for what? Well, if we are attending a funeral, it could be too late to tell the deceased how we feel. It could be too late to save the person, to prevent their death. Basically, death makes us too late for everything in relation to the deceased. 
  • It looks like this other thing Henry has on his mind, the thing he attends to, is death. But our speaker tells us that death "is not for tears." Instead, it is a time for "thinking." And Berryman puts that word thinking all alone. It gets its own line and it dangles there with all that white space at the end of stanza 2. As readers, we have a long time to ponder what Henry should be thinking about rather than crying. 
  • But why should Henry need to think about death? Why can't he just feel grief? Wait a minute, wasn't that Sienese face looking at Henry with reproach? Is there something Henry should be ashamed of? Read on Shmoopers, read on.

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