John Berryman: The Song of the Tortured Girl
After a little I could not have told –
But no one asked me this – why I was there.
I asked. The ceiling of that place was high
And there were sudden noises, which I made.
I must have stayed there a long time today:
My cup of soup was gone when they brought me back.
Often ‘Nothing worse now can come to us’
I thought, the winter the young men stayed away,
My uncle died, and mother broke her crutch.
And then the strange room where the brightest light
Does not shine on the strange men: shines on me.
I feel them stretch my youth and throw a switch.
Through leafless branches the sweet wind blows
Making a mild sound, softer than a moan;
High in a pass once where we put our tent,
Minutes I lay awake to hear my joy.
– I no longer remember what they want. –
Minutes I lie awake to hear my joy.
An early poem, from John Berryman’s first collection The Dispossessed (1948), which you can now find in the Collected Poems 1937-1971. Even if you already own one of the many editions of the Dream Songs, this volume, edited by Charles Thornbury, is an indispensable volume, if you’ve got any interest in modern American poetry. “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet”, one of the best American poems of the 20th century alone is worth the price of admission. Buy it. Read it.