& John Berryman Essay, Research Paper
Lowell and Berryman
Robert Lowell and John Berryman both used their personal experiences as visuals
in their writings. Their styles are similar in that aspect. Robert Lowell’s poem “The
Drunken Fisherman” tells a story about himself fishing, and describes the seen in great
detail. “Of Suicide”, written by John Berryman, is an autobiographical poem about how
depressed he is. Berryman’s work describes in detail what he thinks about and what was
going on in his life at that moment making him feel so depressed.
“The Drunken Fisherman” by Robert Lowell is a poem based on a specific
instance, when the writer was fishing.
THE DRUNKEN FISHERMAN
Wallowing in this bloody sty,
I cast for fish that pleased my eye
(Truly Jehovah’s bow suspends
No pots of gold to weight its ends);
Only the blood mouthed rainbow trout
Rose to my bait. They flopped about
My canvas creel until the moth
Corrupted its unstable cloth.
The first part of the poem explains what he is doing. The writer is fishing for
rainbow trout because he likes the way it looks. Lowell states that he is not fishing for
money, rather he is fishing for rainbow trout, a fish that likes the taste of blood. When he
catches a fish, he puts it in his canvas pouch where it flops about until it is dead.
A calendar to tell the day
A handkerchief to wave away
The gnats; a couch unstuffed with storm
Pouching a bottle in one arm;
A whisky bottle full of worms;
And bedroom slacks: are these fit terms
To mete the worm whose molten rage
boils in the belly of old age?
This part of the poem describes the physical appearance of the subject. He has a
calendar to tell what day it is, a handkerchief to swat at the gnats. He is sitting on, or
could possibly be, like a couch that is old and weathered. He sits with a bottle of whisky
in one arm, and another empty bottle filled with worms in the other. His attire consists of
simple, worn pajamas. He asks if this these terms are good enough to be fishing with
worms, in his old age.
Once fishing was a rabbits foot-
O wind blow cold, O wind blow hot,
Let suns stay in or suns step out:
Life danced a jig on the sperm-whale’s spout-
The fisher’s fluent and obscene
Catches kept his conscience clean.
Children, the raging memory drools
Over the glory of past pools.
He says that fishing used to be good luck. Weather it was hot or cold and in day
or night, you could always catch a fish to eat. He goes on to tell how people exploited
fishing, particularly the sperm-whale, saying that fishermen used to catch a lot in order to
keep there conscious clean of the harm they were doing, so that the money they were
making out weighed the guilt. But there children will never be able to escape the memory
of the harm their parents caused just for glory.
Now the hot river, ebbing, hauls
Its bloody waters into holes;
A grain of sand inside my shoe
Mimics the moon that might undo
Man and Creation too; remorse,
Stinking, has puddled up its source;
Here tantrums thrash to a wale’s rage.
This is the pot-hole of old age.
The hot river of blood flows back to the sea, it waters into holes in the earth like a
grain of sand that doesn’t really mater any more, its just part of the world. It is a part of
man and creation that has been plugged up time after time, but that will never stop the
rage of the whale. The last line of this stanza brings you back to the seen that was set
before, of an old man sitting in his old age.
Is there no way to cast my hook
Out of this dynamited brook?
The Fisher’s sons must cast about
When shallow waters peter about.
I will catch Christ with a greased worm,
And when the Prince of Darkness stalks
My bloodstream to its stygian term…
On water the Man-Fisher walks.
He asks if there is any way to get out of the life that he has created for himself, he
only hopes that his children can find another way. He will find salvation in fishing while he
awaits his death. Death comes in all shapes and sizes, his will come in the form of a
Man-Fisher. You reap what you sow.
John Berryman’s “ Of Suicide” is a poem that was obviously written when the
author was contemplating suicide. He uses his personal life to identify with the reader. The
imagery of the poem suggests instances in your own life not necessarily his.
Reflections on suicide, & on my father, possess me.
I drink too much. My wife threatens separation.
She won’t ‘nurse’ me. She feels ‘inadequate’.
We Don’t mix together.
The start of the poem is the basis for everything to come. He is thinking about
suicide and his father who killed himself outside his son’s window by shooting himself in
the head. He is an alcoholic and his wife has had enough of it. She won’t console him any
more, not to mention anything else. They don’t get along anymore and he knows it.
It’s an hour later in the East.
I could call up Mother in Washington, D.C.
But could she help me?
And all this postal adulation & reproach?
He could call up his mother to talk, but is that going to help. All he seems to talk
about with her is how he doesn’t write enough. He would not hear anything other than
how much she loves him and and her praises of him.
A basis rock-like of love & friendship
for all this world-wide madness seems to be needed.
Epictetus is in some ways my favorite philosopher.
Happy men have died earlier.
Love and friendship is a basis for the world-wide madness that seams to be needed
to keep reality real and not pretend. Epictetus is his favorite philosopher, but happier men
have died earlier than him.
I still plan to go to Mexico this summer.
The Olmec images! Chich?n Itz?!
D. H. Lawrence has a wild dream of it.
Malcolm Lowry’s book when it came out I taught to my precept at Princeton.
He still plans to go to Mexico to see the great sights. Another writer had dreams
of it. When he read the book by Malcolm Lowry he taught his class with the highest
moral he could.
I don’t entirely resign. I may teach the Third Gospel
this afternoon. I haven’t made up my mind.
It seems to me sometimes that others have easier jobs
& do them worse.
He didn’t entirely resign from his teaching position, he may still teach the third
gospel in the afternoon, but he hasn’t decided if he is going to make it that far yet. It
seems to him that others have easier jobs than his and they do them worse. He appears to
be incredibly discouraged as an individual, but sees himself as being half decent in
comparison to many others.
Well, we must labor & dream. Gogol was impotent,
somebody in Pittsburgh told me.
I said: At what age? They couldn’t answer.
That is a damned serious matter.
We must work and dream for that is life. He finds out that Gogol was impotent
and takes it as a serious matter, because the purpose of life is to reproduce. In his
opinion, if one cannot reproduce, than what good are they.
Rembrandt was sober. There we differ. Sober.
Terrors came on him. To us they come.
Of suicide I continually think.
Apparently he didn’t. I’ll teach Luke.
Rembrandt was sober and he is not, that is where they differ. Bad things come to
Rembrandt and seek him out. To drunks, bad things just seem to come. He continually
thinks of suicide, where as Rembrandt did not. At the end he despised not to kill himself,
but to go teach in his moral ways.
Both John Berryman and Robert Lowell use extraordinary amounts of imagery and
personal experiences to get there points across. Lowell’s use of the imagery has a
tendency to put the reader in a setting with great detail. His personal expression is part of
the imagery because more often that not he is describing himself. John Berryman’s use of
imagery makes the reader think of instances that go on in their lives, or has the reader try
to understand what the author is feeling while these things are going on. His personal life
becomes the readers life, that enables the reader to understand what the writer is feeling.