KR OnlinePoetry

A Winter-Piece to a Friend Away

From The Kenyon Review, Spring 1948, Vol. X, No. 2.

Your letter came. — Glutted the earth & cold
With rains long heavy, follows intense frost;
        Snow howls and hides the world
We worked awhile to build; all the roads are lost;
Icy spiculae float, filling strange air;
No voice goes far; one is alone whirling since where,
        And when was it one crossed?
        You have been there.

I too the breaking blizzard’s eddies bore
One year, another year: tempted to drop
        At my own feet forlorn
Under the warm fall, frantic more to chop
Wide with the gale until my thought ran numb
Clenching the blue skin tight against what white spikes come,
        And the sick brain estop.
        Your pendulum

Mine, not stilled wholly, has been sorry for,
Weeps from, and would instruct. . . Unless I lied
        What word steadies that cord?
Glade grove & ghyll of antique childhood glide
Off; from our grown grief, weathers that appal,
The massive sorrow of the mental hospital,
        Friends & our good friends hide.
        They came to call.

Hardly theirs, moment when the tempest gains,
Loose heart convulses. Their hearts bend off dry,
        Their fruit dangles and fades.
–Solicitudes of the orchard heart, comply
A little with my longing, a little sing
Our sorrow among steel & glass, our stiffening,
        That hers may modify:
        O trembling Spring.–

Immortal risks our sort run, to a house
Reported in a wood . . . mould upon bread
        And brain, breath giving out,
From farms we go by, barking, and shaken head,
The shrunk pears hang, Hölderlin’s weathercock
Rattles to tireless wind, the fireless landscapes rock,
        Artists insane and dead
        Strike like a clock:

If the fruit is dead, fast. Wait. Chafe your left wrist.
All these too lie, whither a true form strays.
        Sweet when the lost arrive.

Foul sleet ices the twigs, the vision frays,
Festoons all signs; still as I come to name
My joy to you my joy springs up again the same,–
        The thaw alone delays,–
        Your letter came!

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.