"The Statue", by John Berryman, portrays the human race to be ignorant
uncaring. The poet bares a cynical attitude toward mankind. According
to the definition
of modern poetry, "The Statue", by John Berryman, is a modern poem.
Modern poets were inspired by Walt Whitman, who changed the form of
by choosing freestyle, and "abandon[ing] the standard line lengths,
rhymes, and standard
forms of traditional poetry" (Jonvanovich 738). Capitalization,
and sentences are all altered from their accepted form. Capital letters
appear in the
middle of a sentence, and periods appear in the middle of a stanza.
Sentences begin and
end in odd places, and normal syntax is disrupted. Modern poets rapidly
"producing the sense of dislocation that some poets think is
characteristic of modern life"
The content of modern poetry also differs greatly from that of previous
Many modern poets have adapted a cynical outlook on the world.
Jovanovich, the poetry is experimental and often dark, with anger
directed toward society
in general. Topics can include "the lives and perspectives of the
disillusioned, [and] the
outcast" (Jovanovich 575). Poets realize how "alluring, but how
destructively false [are]
the values and appearances of the few at the top of society" (Jovanovich
poetry is also rooted in French Symbolism, which portrays different
things, such as
material objects or the seasons to be symbols of something deeper.
element of modern poetry is the poet's perception of reality. According
to Ellmann, the
modern poet questions reality and is unsure of the objective world.
Poets wish to express
"how important individual perception is in shaping reality" (Jovanovich
The form of "The Statue" shows John Berryman's break away from
Berryman himself said he wanted to write "big fat fresh original and
poems" (Bayley 86). Gary Arpin claims Berryman is fascinated with
According to Diane Ackerman, Berryman's grammar use is different than
that of any
previous poets. Capitalization is found in the middle of a sentence and
in the middle of a
line. For example, the word "Respect" is capitalized in the middle of
the sixth line of the
second stanza: "For the ultimate good, Respect, to hunger waking."
Punctuation in "The
Statue" is also different than that found in traditional poems. For
chooses to leave out commas in the sixth line of the sixth stanza:
"These thighs breasts
pointed eyes are not their choosing." Berryman chooses to end his
sentences in strange
places. He places a period in the middle of the first line of the
"Disfigurement is general. Nevertheless." According to Arpin, Berryman
with syntax. "A deliberately ruptured syntax quarrels with the unbroken
surface of style"
(The Times Literary Supplement 67). In the sixth line of the second
stanza, "For the
ultimate good, Respect, to hunger waking," the word "hunger" is stressed
by placing it in
front of the word "waking." These examples show that grammar is an
important part of
The stanzas in "The Statue" shape the modern poem. Berryman wrote
eight-line stanzas. Joel Conarroe notices a pentameter form is
interrupted in each stanza
by the fourth line, which has a tetrameter pattern. For example, line
three of the third
stanza says, "To spend its summer sheltering our lovers," while line
four says, "Those
walks so shortly to be over." Conarroe also says that each stanza in
completes a thought, and Berryman changes subject quickly from one
stanza to the next.
Stanza one is about the sad condition of the world, stanza two is about
tomorrow, and stanza three is about romance. Berryman changes subjects
so rapidly to
symbolize the disheveled state of modern life.
"The Statue" is also defined as a modern poem by its content. One
in "The Statue" is the difference between a poetic view of mankind, and
a worldly view
of mankind. Poets, according to Conarroe, look at mankind cynically.
exemplified in the first stanza, when the statue, "looks only, cynical.
. ." at the city filled
with disappointment. The poet is also tortured. He can not share his
feelings with the
world about, "Wise resignation and world-weariness" (Conarroe 28). The
statue is also
trapped; he can not express himself either. According to John Bayley,
"The Statue" is
calling out to humanity, but no one will listen. Arpin says that
Berryman wrote "The
Statue" and other poems because he felt a loss of trust in his fellow
man, and a loss of
being cared for by his fellow man. "The poet, rejected by all but
fellow poets, is forced
by hostile environment to the edge of madness" (Arpin 21).
The worldly view of mankind is different than the poetic view.
that the people of the world are too materialistic and oblivious to
really understand each
other. He speaks of a world that has been ruined by man's selfishness.
The city that the
statue looks upon is ravaged by defeat, failure, and frustration.
Berryman thinks mankind
is doomed because of its coldness. He also speaks of lovers, whose
"happiness runs out
like water," because they truly do not care for each other, but the
statue can see. The
statue, "has become a visionary figure that can see when those around
him are blinded"
(Arpin 19). Man's attitude causes the poet to express his viewpoints in
"The Statue" has elements of French Symbolism, which helped to start
modern poetry movement. In French Symbolism, common objects or elements
viewed as symbols of something deeper. The statue is the symbolic
center of the poem,
according to Conarroe. The statue symbolizes, of course, the poet. It
represents the poets
feelings and emotions. The statue represents a constant, while
everything else is
changing. It also represents pain, as it is falling apart, like the
poets hopes and dreams.
Winter is used as a symbol to develop the modern poem. According to
Berryman sees winter as loneliness and desolation. Winter brings the
happiness and contentment. When Berryman says, "Winters have not been
able to alter
its pride," he is referring to winter as a destructive force that must
Spring and Summer are also used as symbols in the development of the
poem. Berryman portrays these warm, cheerful seasons as a home to
lovers. However, it
is only temporary because, "Their happiness runs out like water, of too
the expected drain." Berryman even looks at Spring and Summer
cynically, saying they
hold false hopes for lovers. "They trust their Spring; they have not
seen the statue."
People of the world are even oblivious to their relationships.
The last element of modernism in "The Statue" is man's perception of
The poet sees reality in a different light than other men. Ellmann says
the poet questions
reality. This is evident throughout the whole poem, as the statue tries
to establish his
existence in this unstable world. John Bayley says that Berryman feels
the need to
establish his existence as a poet through the statue. According to John
fears the future, because he does not know what it holds. Jovanovich
says that individual
ideas are very important in the way one sees reality. In order to
discover himself and
reality, Berryman must "cut himself [the statue] off" from the rest of
the world (Bayley
The worldly perception of reality also greatly differs from the poetic
Once again, Berryman feels that people are too materialistic, this time
in their view of
reality. Joel Conarroe says that Berryman feels that man is too
materialistic to understand
reality. Berryman believes that man is "animal", and can only function
on the surface
level. They are oblivious to their fate. He says that their happiness
will soon run out, but
they are too "blind" to realize what they are doing. Man has a false
perception of reality.
"The Statue" by John Berryman shows the differences between the poet
rest of the world. It portrays the coldness of mankind, and the
bitterness of poets.
Because of form and content, "The Statue" by John Berryman is a modern
Ackerman, Diane. "Near the Top a Bad Turn Dared." Modern Critical
Views. p. 101.
Arpin, Gary. The Poetry of John Berryman. New York and London: Kennikat
Bayley, John. "John Berryman: A question of Imperial Sway." Modern
Views. p. 71.
Conarroe, Joel. John Berryman: An Introduction to the poetry. New York:
University Press, 1977.
Ellmann, Richard,ed. and O'Clair, Robert,ed. The Norton Anthology of
Poetry. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1988.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. "Literary Modernism." Adventures
American Literature. p. 574.
Harcourt Brace Jocanovich, Publishers. "Modern Poetry." Adventures in
Literature. p. 738.
The Times Literary Supplement. "The Life of the Modern Poet."
Literary Criticism Vol. 3, pp. 67-68.