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John Berryman Manuscripts

 Collection — Box: VMF 1, Folder: 14
Identifier: MS-VMF-vmf013

1957 October 7. Typescript of Beloved Do Not Think of Me [collection of poems]. Published as His Thoughts Made Pockets and the Plane Buckt. Very light manuscript revision, manuscript pagination upper right corners, Black Book [poem] inserted after original compilation. 15 pages.

Page proof of His Thoughts Made Pockets and the Plane Buckt [collection of poems]. Light revision, moderate printers marks. 13 pages.

1969 March 12. Typescript [mimeograph] of Berryman's National Book Award in Poetry 1969 acceptance speech. 1 page.


  • 1957-1969


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3.00 items

1 folders

Biographical or Historical Information

John Allyn Berryman (October 25, 1914 – January 7, 1972) was an American poet and scholar, born in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and was considered a key figure in the Confessional school of poetry. In 1926, in Florida, when the poet was twelve, his father shot and killed himself. Berryman was haunted by his father's suicide for the rest of his life and would later write about his struggle to come to terms with it in his book The Dream Songs. After his father's death, the poet's mother remarried and they moved to New York City. Her new husband's last name was Berryman, and the poet took this last name, giving him the same exact name as his stepfather. With both his mother and stepfather working, his mother decided to send him away to a private boarding school in Connecticut (South Kent School).  Then Berryman went on to college at Columbia College.  For two years, Berryman also studied overseas at Clare College, Cambridge, on a Kellett Fellowship, awarded by Columbia.  He graduated in 1936.

Berryman's first major work, in which he began to develop his own unique style of writing, was Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, published in 1956. In the long, title poem, which first appeared in Partisan Review in 1953, Berryman addressed the 17th century American poet Anne Bradstreet, combining the history of her life with his own fantasies about her (and inserting himself into her life story). But Berryman's great poetic breakthrough occurred after he published 77 Dream Songs in 1964. The book won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and solidified Berryman's standing as one of the most important poets of the post-World War II generation that included Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Delmore Schwartz.

Berryman was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1967.  He also continued to work on the "dream song" poems and published a second, significantly longer, volume entitled His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, in 1968. This book won the National Book Award for Poetry and the Bollingen Prize. The following year Berryman republished 77 Dreams Songs and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest as one book titled The Dream Songs. In the dream song poems, Berryman used the character of "Henry" to serve as his alter ego, but in his next book of poems, Love & Fame (1970), he dropped the mask of Henry and wrote candidly about himself. The volume received mixed reviews and was generally considered a minor work. The character of Henry was also missing from Delusions Etc., (1972), Berryman's last book, which focused on his religious concerns and his own spiritual rebirth. The book was published posthumously and, like its predecessor, Love & Fame, it is considered a minor work.

Berryman taught at the University of Iowa, in their Writer's Workshop, Harvard University, and the University of Minnesota, where he spent the majority of his career. Some of his illustrious students included W. D. Snodgrass, William Dickey, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, Donald Finkel, and Henri Coulette. Berryman was fired from the University of Iowa after a fight with his landlord ended up leading to his arrest. He turned to his friend, the poet Allen Tate, who helped him get his teaching job at the University of Minnesota.

Berryman was married three times. Throughout his life, he suffered from alcoholism and depression, and on the morning of January 7, 1972, he killed himself by jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota onto the west bank of the Mississippi River, where he died of suffocation in mud rather than trauma.

Source of Acquisition

Accession number 802. Purchased from Claude Fredericks, January 12, 1967

Processing Information

Processed April 1970

John Berryman Manuscripts
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Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020 November 6: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Manuscripts Collecting Area

Joel Minor
Olin Library, 1 Brookings Drive
MSC 1061-141-B
St. Louis MO 63130 US
(314) 935-5495