October 26, 2016KR OnlinePoetry

Letter to His Brother

From the Kenyon Review, Summer 1939, Vol. I, No. 3

The night is on these hills, and some can sleep.
Some stare into the dark, some walk.
Only the sound of glasses and of talk,
Of cracking logs, and of a few who weep,
Comes on the night wind to my waking ears.
Your enemies and mine are still,
None works upon us either good or ill:
Mint by the stream, tree-frogs, are travellers.

What shall I say for anniversary?
At Dachau many blows forbid
And Becket’s brains upon the pavement spread
Forbid my trust, my hopeful prophecy.
Prediction if I make, I violate
The just expectancy of youth.
And yet you know as well as I the tooth
Sunk in our heels, the latest guise of fate.

When Patrick Barton chased the murderer
He heard behind him in the wood
Pursuit, and suddenly he knew he fled:
He was the murderer, the others were
His vigilance. But when he crouched behind
A tree, the tree moved off and left
Him naked while the chase came on; he laughed
And like a hound he leapt out of his mind.

I wish for you—the moon was full, is gone—
Whatever comfort can be got
From the violent world our fathers bought,
For which we pay with fantasy at dawn,
Dismay at noon, fatigue, horror by night.
May love, or its image in work,
Bring you that dignity to know the dark
And so to gain responsible delight.

In 1945, John Berryman won an early KR contest for short fiction, cosponsored by Doubleday, Doran & Co. Berryman achieved his greatest renown as a poet with the publication of 77 Dream Songs in 1964, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.