From the archives: John Berryman

In the current issue of Commonweal, Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill writes about John Berryman's "Eleven Addresses to the Lord," a series of poems he wrote after his treatment for alcoholism at St. Mary's Hospital in upstate New York. As we were preparing Cahill's article for publication, we discovered that one of the "Addresses" first appeared in the September 18, 1970 issue of Commonweal. (The magazine ran it again a few years later after the poet's death.) We also discovered that Commonweal had published another of Berryman's poems in its May 7, 1948 issue.WHETHER THERE IS SORROW IN THE DEMONSNear the top a bad turn some dare. Well,The horse swerves and screams, his eyes pop,Feet feel air, the firm winds propJaws wide wider untilThrough great teeth rider greets the smiles of Hell.Thick night, where the host's thews crack like thongsA welcome, curving abrupt on cheek & neck.Now wing swings over once to checkLick of their fires' tongues,Whip & chuckle, hoarse insulting songs.Powers immortal, fixed, intractable.Only the lost soul jerks whom they joy hang:Clap of remorse, and tang and fangMore frightful than the drillAn outsize dentist scatters down a skull;Nostalgia rips him swinging. Fast in maliceHow may his masters mourn, how ever yearnThe frore pride wherein they burn?God's fire. To what qui tollisStone-tufted ears prick back towards the bright Palace?Whence Lucifer shone Lucifer's friends hailThe scourge of choice made at the point of lightDestined into eternal night;Motionless to fulfillTheir least, their envy looks up dense and pale...Repine blackmarket felons; murderersSit still their time, till yellow feet go first,Dies soon in them, and can die, thirst;Not lives in these, nor yearsOn years scar their despair -- which yet rehearse...Their belvedere is black. They believe, and quail.One shudder racks them only, lonely, andNo mirror breaks at their command.Unsocketed, their willGrinds on their fate. So was, so shall be still.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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