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John Berryman on Ike

Reading John Berryman’s The Dream Songs, I discovered his paean (a slightly tongue-in-cheek one) to Eisenhower’s way of speaking. It’s #23, “The lay of Ike.” The first stanza goes:

This is the lay of Ike.

Here’s to the glory of the Great White–awk–

who has been running–er–er–things in recent–ech–

in the United–If your screen is black,

ladies & gentlemen, we–I like–

at the Point he was already terrific–sick

I’m just getting into Berryman so am not that familiar with his rhyme scheme, though in the preceding poem he rhymes ABCBCA on the first stanza and ABCCBA on the next two; I think the point is that Ike’s so disjointed, even a poem about him can’t keep a rhyme. (Though the last stanza has an AABCBC pattern.)

It’s interesting that Berryman does this to Ike’s disjoint syntax, since his narrator, Henry, also depends on breaking all sorts of grammatical conventions; and another voice, Mr. Bones, speaks in an African-American dialect, as in #36:

The high ones die, die. They die. You look up and who’s there?

–Easy, easy, Mr Bones. I is on your side.

I smell your grief.

–I sent my grief away. I cannot care

forever. With them all again & again I died

and cried, and I have to live.

–Now there you exaggerate, Sah. We hafta die.

That is our ‘pointed task. Love & die.

–Yes; that makes sense.

But what makes sense between, then? What if I

roiling & babbling & braining, brood on why and

just sat on the fence?