Insomnia by Elizabeth Bishop

The moon in the bureau mirror
looks out a million miles
(and perhaps with pride, at herself,
but she never, never smiles)
far and away beyond sleep, or
perhaps she’s a daytime sleeper.

By the Universe deserted,
she’d tell it to go to hell,
and she’d find a body of water,
or a mirror, on which to dwell.
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well

into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.

by Elizabeth Bishop

More about Berryman

John_berryman Thanks for the interesting comments on John Berryman. Re: the observations by Christa and Jeff, I guess the photo (taken by my father) that I posted with A Berryman House provides a sense of desolation, devastation?

Jeff’s analogy of the Turner painting is interesting in many ways. I’m thinking about the idea of this landscape and it’s inversion, an ocean. JB’s father committed suicide in Oklahoma in a desolate area such as the one in this picture; Berryman’s own suicide involved death by water, albeit frozen. A kind of yin and yang of father/son suicide. Perhaps this is what Jeff was thinking too, and I’m simply unpacking his metaphor.

I remember reading about father/son suicides in relation to JB in my studies. For one thing, the sons of suicidal men have a much higher risk of dying that way too. It’s been a while, but something by A. Alvarez, perhaps it was a chapter of The Savage God, rumbles around in my head as feeling important. In Paul Mariani’s Berryman biography, Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman, the specters of alcoholism and manic depression appeared in the foreground, not the background, of the picture he paints.

In The Dream Songs, Berryman is often in elegy mode, both directly for his father and for dozens of male writers, some seen as father figures and others as peers. In #145, he writes,

I cannot read that wretched mind, so strong
& so undone. I’ve always tried. I–I’m
trying to forgive
whose frantic passage, when he could not live
an instant longer, in the summer dawn
left Henry to live on.

There were so many suicides in that generation of poets. There’s a point in Brett Millier’s biography of Elizabeth Bishop in which apparently Bishop survived so many suicidal friends, she found it overwhelming. And who can blame her?