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On "Dream Song 45"


Helen Vendler

Dream Song #45 is a list-poem enumerating predicaments which at the time certainly seemed to be ruin (being discovered naked with one's girlfriend by her enraged father, for instance) but which proved, when real Ruin came, to be merely impostors. This Dream Song of Ruin preceded by its earlier impostors is verbally organized by two almost identical lines. In the first, we hear Henry's illiterate boozy remark about ruin, 'He thought they was old friends'; in the second, we perceive that Henry has been shocked into literacy by reality: 'But he noted now that: they were not old friends.' Between these two lines the cartoon-strip of successive pseudo-ruins unrolls. until it dissolves at the encounter with the real thing:

. . . it differs from its prose eqnivalent not only in its shapeliness (produced by grammatical and syntactic parallelism) but also by its reductiveness: Henry and ruin, old pals. cross paths (as if in the successive frames of a cartoon strip) round the world; then ruin, old friend, mysteriously vanishes and a horrible allegorical stranger, saying in effect' I RUIN AM,' fixes Henry with a toxic dissolution-beam, making Henry evanesce into nothingness before our very eyes.

from The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Redefinition. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995. Copyright 1995 by Helen Vendler


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