Helen Vendler argues that John Berryman’s The Dream Songs synthesizes the Freudian Id and the Christian Conscience as personified by Henry and Mr. Bones respectively. Through a close reading, this essay seeks to analyze Vendler’s claim specifically within “Dream Song 4”, in which, the poet utilizes a trope from American minstrelsy to depict the lustful thoughts of a man, presumably Berryman himself, dining at an upscale restaurant. The two speakers of the poem personify and divide his mind and in keeping with the vaudeville performances Berryman draws from, Henry behaves with erratic irrationality, curbed only by the reason of his counterpart. Because Mr. Bones exhibits a sense of contempt for the Id, a departure from the neutrality of the Conscience, I conclude the Superego is present, contrary to Vendler’s claim. Throughout, the essay I discuss the implications of a Freudian mind absent the Ego as a condition integral for society’s continuance and as an honest portrayal of the private thoughts taking place within. The poem’s eighteen-line style alludes to the Petrarchan sonnet and a romance impeded. But Berryman’s modernized version reinterprets love to be something as meaningless and instinctual as lusting after a married woman nearby yet so powerful as it induces thoughts of diving upon her. “Dream Song 4” Uncovers the human mind to its most unadulterated form, unobstructed by lofty notions of romance or even one’s own identity. What remains is the drama of the Id and Superego in tug of war while a man silently eats his spumoni at a restaurant.
"Chicken Paprika and Tug of War: the Romantic "Dream Song 4" by John Berryman,"
The Criterion: Vol. 2019
, Article 4.
Available at: https://crossworks.holycross.edu/criterion/vol2019/iss1/4