“He mutter spiffy”



So Long? Stevens

He lifted up, among the actuaries,
a grandee crow. Ah ha & he crowed good.
That funny money-man.
Mutter we all must as well as we can.
He mutter spiffy. He make wonder Henry’s
wits, though, with a odd

… something … something … not there in his flourishing art.
O veteran of death, you will not mind
a counter-mutter.
What was it missing, then,
at the man’s heart
so that he does not wound? It is our kind
to wound, as well as utter

a fact of happy world. That metaphysics
he hefted up until we could not breathe
the physics. On our side,
monotonous (or ever-fresh)—it sticks
in Henry’s throat to judge—brilliant, he seethe;
better than us; less wide.

—John Berryman
—from His Toy, His Dream, His Rest

Dream Song

John Berryman’s brilliant “Dream Song” is a good way to end the Wallace Stevens’s birthday week.  He loves Stevens, but feels that something is missing.  Of course the “funny money man” mutters spiffy.  But Henry feels that something is lacking.  He cannot quite put his finger on it but wants to issue a “counter-mutter”.    I don’t agree with his idea that Stevens does not wound, for I have been wounded by Stevens as often as any other great poet.  Perhaps more.  Stevens can wound me.   But different sorts of weapons wound different readers and perhaps Berryman is responding to some of the late poems that can seem very solemnly intellectually and even a bit cold.   Henry, Berryman’s alter ego, ends up asserting that while Stevens is brilliant, he is “less wide” than Henry.   It’s possible that Henry’s trauma’s are more deeply personal than those which Stevens reveals in his own poetry.  The dream songs are a brilliant and cohesive and very project; Stevens worked, I think, more broadly and widely than Berryman.