Not to Live

By John Berryman 1914–1972 John Berryman

(Jamestown 1957)

It kissed us, soft, to cut our throats, this coast,
like a malice of the lazy King. I hunt,
& hunt! but find here what to kill?—nothing is blunt,
but phantoming uneases I find. Ghost
on ghost precedes of all most scared us, most
we fled. Howls fail upon this secret, far air: grunt,
shaming for food; you must. I love the King
& it was not I who strangled at the toast
but a flux of a free & dying adjutant:
God be with him. He & God be with us all,
for we are not to live, I cannot wring,
like laundry, blue my soul—indecisive thing . .
From undergrowth & over odd birds call
and who would starv'd so survive? God save the King.

John Berryman, "Not to Live" from Collected Poems, 1937-1971. Copyright © 1989 by John Berryman. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

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Source: Collected Poems, 1937-1971 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989)

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Poet John Berryman 1914–1972

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Subjects Religion, God & the Divine, Mythology & Folklore, Ghosts & the Supernatural

Poetic Terms Sonnet

 John  Berryman

Biography

A scholar and professor as well as a poet, John Berryman is best-known for The Dream Songs, an intensely personal sequence of 385 poems which brought him the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. In these he invented a style and form able to accommodate a vast range of material while expressing his turbulent emotions.

Born John Smith in McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1914, Berryman suffered a great loss at 12 when his father shot . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, God & the Divine, Mythology & Folklore, Ghosts & the Supernatural

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Poetic Terms Sonnet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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