Study Guide

Dream Song 29 Sadness

By John Berryman

Sadness

In "Dream Song 29," the very first stanza tells us that Henry is sad (you'd be sad too if you had something heavy sitting on your heart). It's the kind of sadness that a lollipop or even a whole box of doughnuts can't fix. In fact, Henry is sooo sad, that even that age old remedy time isn't going to help. Henry's sadness seems to be coming from someplace deeper—an internal, psychological sadness, rather that an external "I'm sad because Breaking Bad ended" kind of sad.

Questions About Sadness

  1. The poem's first stanza is definitely dealing with sadness. How does Berryman convey sadness so clearly without ever using the word "sad"?
  2. What do you imagine is making Henry so sad? Do you imagine it is something concrete (specific) like a breakup or a lost puppy, or is it something more mysterious, a kind of general, aching sadness that has no real knowable origin? Try to explain why you think it's one or the other.
  3. Henry's sadness always returns: "It starts again always in Henry's ears." Why did Berryman choose to describe the return of Henry's sadness this way? Did John just have a bad earache when he was writing this one or is there some other explanation?
  4. Why does it "start again" with a "cough" or an "odour" or a "chime"? Are these things inherently sad, or is their sadness specific to Henry's experience? (And yes, this is a wicked-long question.)

Chew on This

Berryman's description of Henry's sadness goes way beyond your average, garden variety, "my favorite pair of pants is in the wash and I really wanted to wear them today" kind of sadness. This sadness is the extra-strength, clinical variety.

Come on. Henry's sadness is the least of his problems. If he could deal with that crushing guilt described in stanza two, Henry would probably be a little less gloomy.

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