Berryman and Lowell: The Art of Losing by Stephen Matterson

By Stephen Matterson

PMContents: advent: Tumbles and Leaps; starting in knowledge; in the direction of a Rhetoric of Destitution; Excellence and Loss; background and Seduction; Defeats and goals; Notes and References; Index

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As with those other poems, the influences working on Berryman may be seen. But here he uses those influences in a highly creative way. They do not crush him and they do not overwhelm the poem; he shows that he is able to subordinate them so that they come to enrich his own poem. ) also provides a strong source for the poem. But Berryman absorbs these poems and ideas, making them conform to his own perspective. It is true that at times he seems to come rather too close to Keats: one cannot miss the similarity of movement and gesture between the two poems.

Such a view of art emerges in several different poems by Berryman written around this time. In 'The Statue' he uses a statue to symbolise the permanence of art - a use analogous to the way in which Stevens presents the statue of General Du Puy in 'Notes Towards A Supreme Fiction'. However, for Stevens the statue's immutability renders it valueless: 'yet the general was rubbish in the end'. For Berryman, though, the permanence of the statue serves to accentuate the time-bound transient lives of those who live near it: The lovers pass.

Thus on one of its levels the poem's theme is quite familiar: reaction to certain events precipitates development from one stage of growth to another. However, initiation represents only one of the poem's aspects, and two further points need to be made even about this aspect. First of all, the boy's initiation starts because of something, an accident, which happens to him. It is not started through conscious action on his part. In this respect it differs somewhat from other patterns and stories concerning initiation - notably from one of Berryman's favourites, Faulkner's The Bear.

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