The Statue: A Modern Poem

"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,

punctuation, phrasing,

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

change subjects,

"producing the sense of dislocation that some poets think is

characteristic of modern life"

(Jovanovich 739).

The content of modern poetry also differs greatly from that of previous


Many modern poets have adapted a cynical outlook on the world.

According to

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

575). Modern

poetry is also rooted in French Symbolism, which portrays different

things, such as

material objects or the seasons to be symbols of something deeper.

Another important

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

example, Berryman

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

fourth stanza:

"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

modern poetry.

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

"The Statue"

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

yearning for

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

major subject

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.

This is

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.

Berryman feels

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

modern poetry.

"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

destruction of

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

be overcome.

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

much sweetness

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

Arpin, Berryman

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

and the

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



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Views. p. 101.

Arpin, Gary. The Poetry of John Berryman. New York and London: Kennikat


Corporation, 1978.

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.

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