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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE? John Haffenden, The Life of John Berryman (Routledge) £15.00

John Berryman was a most unhappy man, afflicted with insomnia, rage, envy, alcoholism, guilt, poverty, and complete sexual and social instability. He was hysterical and self-obsessed. The poems that he wrote, particularly towards the end of his life, were not just a literary solution of those insoluble problems and intolerable aches, they were also in a way a moral solution, and a very beautiful one. He was one of the deepest human beings, broken wide open, and his poetry goes far beyond what psychiatrists or the sacrament of confession could demand or use. At the end of his life his worst suffering was fear of himself and his future; when he jumped off his bridge he was not drunk or hysterical or raging.

Any life of Berryman must make painful reading; this one is based on a thorough study of his surviving papers, which include endless fragments of self-analysis. A word of caution about this.It is not at all uncommon for melancholy temperaments to scribble down outrageous and distorted versions of their lives, simply in order to clear the bile from their pens. Hysterical self-dramatization may in the end make the material of poetry, but in its raw form it does not make for reliable analysis. Still, the facts about John Berryman are not in question, only their colouring, and although I suspect some of the sensational colours of the biography should be muted, John Haffenden has done his work thoroughly, and used evidence of every kind. ...


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