Dream Song 113: Or Amy Vladeck Or Riva Freifeld

or Amy Vladeck or Riva Freifeld

That isna Henry limping. That's a hobble
clapped on mere Henry by the most high GOD
for the freedom of Henry's soul.
—The body's foul, cried god, once, twice, & bound it—
For many years I hid it from him successfully—
I'm not clear how he found it

But now he has it—much good may it do him
in the vacant spiritual of space—
only Russians & Americans
to as it were converse with—weel, one Frenchman
to liven up the airless with one nose
& opinions clever & grim.

God declared war on Valerie Trueblood,
against Miss Kaplan he had much to say
O much to say too.
My memory of his kindness comes like a flood
for which I flush with gratitude; yet away
he shouldna have put down Miss Trueblood.

by John Berryman

Comments (2)

In response to the first comment, I have to say, as one of the people mentioned in this poem, that John Berryman never was abusive to a student in any of the classes I attended. He didn't teach a composition class but a class in the short story (and others in poetry) . He was remarkably patient with student work. As to his drinking, I think the other two would agree that in 1962 none of us would have dreamed of trying to intervene in a professor's sorrows.
Berryman spent his 1962-3 sabbatical from the University of Minnesota teaching at Brown University. Kaplan, Trueblood and Freifeld were undergraduate women in his composition class. He came down hard on them, and expresses guilt about it here. Kaplan was incredibly bright, even by Brown standards; Trueblood was petite and aristocratic; Riva Freifeld was tall, the daughter of the Canadian ambassador. None of them were about to put up with abuse that Berryman dished out when he came to class drunk, which was most of the time. Liberation was beginning, and you can see traces of it in this poem. As usual, Berryman is writing about what it felt like to live through the intellectual history of his time; the result is a mixture of news reports and biographical events. Read the Ball Poem. Berryman said that all of his subsequent poems flow from and relate to that poem's theme of loss.