Study Guide

Dream Song 29 Versions of Reality

By John Berryman

Versions of Reality

"Dream Song 29" is kind of a freaky poem—which makes sense. Dreams are freaky. Sometimes they seem so real you wake up certain that what you just dreamt really happened. Other times, they are so off the wall you wonder how your brain came up with it at all. Either way, the dream world and reality exist on different planes, and while the two might overlap in terms of themes and emotions, what happens in dreams and what happens in reality don't overlap. (Or does it? Remember Nightmare on Elm Street? Google the trailer at your own risk.) That said, Henry seems to be having some trouble keeping his dream world and reality separated, and it's causing him some serious anxiety.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. In what ways does "Dream Song 29" feel dream-like and in what ways does it seem like reality? 
  2. In the poem's last stanza, the end words "up" and "missing" are repeated. How does this repetition affect the reading of the poem? How does it make you feel as a reader? Does this repetition reflect the idea of different versions of reality? If so, how?
  3. If you dreamt something was sitting on your heart and making you sad, what would the thing look like? What would it be? What do you think Henry's thing looked like? Why?

Chew on This

"Dream Song 29" is simply an exaggeration of the feelings we have during and after a nightmare—no big whoop. The life of a dream can feel like an eternity and even when we wake up, it can seem like "a thousand years would fail to blur" the feelings and images from the dream. But we finally come back to the real world and realize, like Henry, that everything is okay.

The speaker's confused syntax and the poem's irregular rhyming reflect Henry's struggle. He is losing his grasp on reality. He is becoming unable to tell the difference between his dreams and reality. Yiiipe.

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