ground of chaos, disorder, and destruction,nof a life raved away in alcoholism,nhallucination, and revelation. Berrymanndoes not, however, merely exploitnhis personal anguish; instead, with colloquialnintimacy, he deals with thenpredicament of persons in a world whonhave suffered not only the loss of Godnbut the loss of themselves. Berryman’sncourage compelled him to record withnclarity and frankness his own spiritualnmalignancy, until at last — tired andnexhausted, living with the apprehensionnthat God’s patience too had beennexhausted and the promise of salvationnwithdrawn — he let go, jumping thenone hundred feet from the WashingtonnAvenue Bridge in Minneapolis.nAs Paul Mariani makes clear, JohnnBerryman was a man of scruples andnsnares, disciplining his life only tonindulge and binge. His conscience wasndelicate but lax; and the combinationnof the two more easily disturbed andnruined him. Berryman thus makes fornengaging comparison with his contemporarynThomas Merton: both werenstudents of Mark Van Doren at ColumbianUniversity; both were occupiednwith literature and religion; both werensensitive to the cacophonous noises ofnan absurd society, which drove themninto alienation and unorthodox ways ofnliving; both had strong contemplativenminds, lived long hours in solitude, andncame in time to be touched by a truthnoutside the ordinary limits of humannvision. In their own distinctive ways,nboth have left us a theology of creativity,nan immense power too great to benfully comprehended at this brief temporalnremove.nMariani himself is a man of judgmentnand scruple, accepting the goodsnof Berryman’s life but making sense ofnit as another poet would. Mariani’snown poems read at times like thenspiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, thensoul falling away from its scruples intonsnares, the conscience excoriaHng itselfnthrough penance, the persona transformednat the poem’s end until thennext appearance of sin from which annew spiritual advancement proceeds.nFew poets today are engaged in suchnprofound endeavors, staying “true tonthe facts — the literary remains —nwhich he or she keeps finding, trying tonmake sense of it all in something like anfinal ordering.”nDream Song gathers an unsettlingnrush and pace in its final third, suggestingnMariani finished the book undernthe constraints of editorial time. Hadnhe given the book a forced symmetry,nhowever, the whole of the text wouldnbe untrue to the whole of Berryman’snlife — a life spent in search of a center.nBerryman’s poetry is the only residuenin which such a center is to be discerned;nand that canonical terrain hasnyet fully to be charted.nBerryman the poet was, as seemsncommon today, a serial autobiographer.nThe personae in his major worksn— Anne Bradstreet, Henry, AlannSeverance — are, as Mr. Marianinmakes clear, composites of Berryman’snown experience; their subjective responsesnare his responses. Dream Songntraces the process of self-definition,nblending the personalities and thenponderings, until the acquired voice ornvoices in the writing merge into somethingnlike a composite total mind learningnto live with its history. The questionnthat seems to override that historynis whether America needs persons ofnBerryman’s talent — or, for that matter,nwhether America needs to be remindednof their ordeals. Our mythologynis filled with winners and withndreams of winning. Far too seldom donwe hear the incantations of defeat.nAmerica, which feeds the spirit, alsonstarves it, driving it to eccentric andnegocentric extremes. The tragic undersongsnof our poets’ lives, from AnnenBradstreet to the present time, remindnus that the dream is torn; the modernnand postmodern generation of poets,nthe middle generation, are as muchnaware of the difficulties in creatingnpoetic identities as the first generationnwas: “We are on each other’s hands /nwho care. Both of our worlds unhandednus. Lie stark” {Homage to MistressnBradstreet).nThe mad, nervous songs that issuenfrom this misplaced middle are sung bynoutsiders: persons at the borders ofncommon experience, alienated figuresnwhose voices nevertheless carry truthnin their assertions. Mariani throws lightnon the swerving, staggering, slantwisenlife of John Berryman by implying thatnBerryman’s ego-flaunting bullying isnalso his vulnerability; to see the drunknstaggering, reeling, vomiting in thenback of a taxi is to see many of our ownnactions and impulses; yet we also see anBerryman offering direct addresses tonnnthe Lord. Berryman is neither Mariani’snhero nor his doppelgdnger; neithernis he a specimen to be carved upnfor psychoanalysis. He is, to Mariani,na fallen figure possessed by narcissism,njealousy, hate, lamentations,nlove, and faith.nBecoming an American poet ofnsome eminence, and then retainingnthat eminence, is difficult enough;nfinding admirers who have disinterestednrelation to the work itself, as opposednto trivial disciples, is essential tonpoetic survival. Mariani is a ferventnadmirer of Berryman, but also a realisticnone; he combines the aggressions innBerryman’s life with the aggressions innthe poems. A case needs to be madenfor representing such a life in detail.nDoes John Berryman actually merit sonexhaustive a biography as this one?nIn his preface, Mariani refers to an”bracing community” of writers whonunderstood Berryman’s “difficultngreatness.” It is interesting in this respectnto compare a portion of JohnnHaff^enden’s John Berryman with anportion of Mariani’s Dream Song, bothnof them having to do with DylannThomas’s death. HaflFenden writes:n”He called at the hospital on Mondaynlunchtime, when Thomas happened tonbe unattended for a moment, andnfound him dead. Careering off to tellnthe nurse, Berryman met John MalcolmnBrinnin (who had been in attendancenall the weekend and had justnslipped out for a moment) and demandednaccusingly, ‘Where werenyou?'” Haffenden slights Berryman’sngrief, writing that it is “certainly truenthat Berryman exaggerated his intimacynwith Thomas, with whom he was innfact comparatively little acquainted,nbut it was less from self-seeking shallownessnthan from a strong sense ofnidentification.” Mariani portrays Berrymannas more honor-bound and withnan intense sense of grief: “At 12:40 thenfollowing afternoon — November 9 —nBerryman arrived at St. Vincent’s tonfind Dylan unattended. As he lookednat Thomas, he realized with a shocknthat something was wrong. He shoutednfor a nurse, who appeared immediately,nand then realized that Thomas wasndead. As Berryman walked out into thenhall, he ran into John MalcolmnBrinnin, the man responsible for organizingnDylan’s American tours, justnreturning from lunch. Hysterical, Ber-nFEBRUARY 1991/35n