The Statue: A Modern Poem

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"The Statue", by John Berryman, portrays the human race to be ignorant and 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 poetry 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 styles. 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 574). The form of "The Statue" shows John Berryman's break away from conformity. Berryman himself said he wanted to write "big fat fresh original and characteristic poems" (Bayley 86). Gary Arpin claims Berryman is fascinated with technique. 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 experiments 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 seven 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 the modern poetry movement. In French Symbolism, common objects or elements are 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 Arpin, 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 modern 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 reality. 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 80). The worldly perception of reality also greatly differs from the poetic perception. 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 poem. WORKS CITED 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 Press Corporation, 1978. Bayley, John. "John Berryman: A question of Imperial Sway." Modern Critical Views. p. 71. Conarroe, Joel. John Berryman: An Introduction to the poetry. New York: Columbus University Press, 1977. Ellmann, Richard,ed. and O'Clair, Robert,ed. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1988. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. "Literary Modernism." Adventures in American Literature. p. 574. Harcourt Brace Jocanovich, Publishers. "Modern Poetry." Adventures in American Literature. p. 738. The Times Literary Supplement. "The Life of the Modern Poet." Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 3, pp. 67-68.

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