Dream Song 14: Life, friends, is boring Poem by John Berryman Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“Dream Song 14: Life, friends, is boring” is a poem by John Berryman that expresses dissatisfaction of the speaker with his life and with himself. The poet includes nature and reality of life to portray these emotions in the poem. 

About the Poet 

John Berryman was an American poet of the 20th century. He was a major figure of American poetry, most known for his Dream Songs. His poems often carry themes of loss, transformation, and growing up. Later in his life, he was too relied on alcohol and committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. 


The poem is divided into three stanzas of six lines, which are commonly known as sestets. The poem maintains a proper form, and is composed in iambic pentameter.

Summary and Analysis 

Stanza One 

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatedly) 'Ever to confess you're bored

means you have no


The poem begins as the speaker directly addresses the readers as “friends” and goes on to tell the readers how boring life is. Although life is full of excitement when the lighting flashes in the sky and when the great sea yearns, just like humans do. He then recalls his mother’s sayings about not losing one’s resources by admitting they are bored. 


The poem begins with the speaker addressing the readers as friends. The speaker of the poem is directly conversing with the readers and telling them how boring life is. Although he thinks life is boring, he further adds “we must not say so” ahead in the same line as if to make up for the claim. 

He then proceeds to contradict his own claim in the next lines by describing the aspiring aspects of life. Things like flashes of lighting in the sky and the yearning sea are mentioned by the speaker. He admits how humans themselves flash and yearn, in a way he transfers these human qualities onto the sea and the lightning in the sky. 

In the next lines, the speaker recalls his mother repeatedly stating one thing when he was little, that is, if anyone ever confesses that they are bored, then they have no inner resources. Here, the poet breaks this one thought throughout these lines to the second stanza, where the thought is completed. 

Stanza Two 

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

Peoples bore me,

literature bores me, especially great literature,

Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes

as bad as achilles,


The second stanza continues the thought carried out by the first stanza. The speaker confesses that he has no inner resources and he is in fact bored of everything and everyone. He is even bored of himself and nothing fascinated him anymore, even great literature that narrates the stories of Achilles. 


The second stanza begins as the speaker recalls his childhood teachings, how his mother wanted him to believe in himself after he grows up by never falling in the trap of boredom. The thought is completed in the first line. The line continues as the speaker confesses that he has no inner resources left. 

The speaker concludes that he has no inner resources, that is, a sort of self-support or capability to drive away loneliness and worries. The speaker confesses of not possessing any of these resources because he is heavily bored. He finds himself bored of everything and everyone. 

In the next lines, the speaker states that people around him bore him greatly, he must be avoiding these people. But not just people, even Literature bores him now, that too the great, classic Literature. 

The speaker then states “Henry bores me”, here, it is important to know more about the poet, John Berryman. Berryman has created a character named Henry through many of his poems, and this character often refers to himself in the first, second, and third person in some of Berryman’s poems. Therefore, here Henry is the speaker of the poem, and he is mentioning himself in third person, stating that he is bored of himself. Bored of his plights and gripes. 

In the last line of this stanza, the poet writes, Henry is as bad as “achilles”. Here, Achilles, a Greek mythological figure who was known for his prowess and temper, is referred to without capitalising the first letter of his name. This great Greek Mythological figure, Achilles, is mentioned so tiresomely, that it shows how unimpressed the speaker is with Achilles’ greatness. 

Stanza Three 

Who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.

And the tranquil hills, and gin, look like a drag

and somehow a dog

has taken itself and its tail considerably away

into mountains or sea or sky, leaving

behind: me, wag.


The speaker expresses his dislike towards Achilles because he loves people and art, the exact things that the speaker hates. Everything bores the speaker even the tranquil hills and gin, they all look like a drag. And somehow a dog took itself off with its tail far away into the mountains, into the sea, and the sky and left the speaker alone, with a wag. 


The last stanza begins as the speaker describes all the things he hates about Achilles. He claims how Achilles was a people person and had a great love for art. In the earlier stanzas, the speaker has already expressed his disinterest towards people and art, and to see Achilles carries these interests, he bores the speaker. 

In the next lines, the speaker again revisits nature when he mentions the tranquil hills. These hills and gin, that is booze, also seem like a drag. He is not fascinated by these anymore, even alcohol bores him. 

These next lines of the poem are important as the speaker mentions a dog. “Somehow a dog”, is known for its loyal companionship. Here the dog may represent many things like love, culture, friendship, art, etc. The speaker continues to say that somehow a dog has taken itself away with his tail. The speaker might be hinting at these things that are missing in his life. They are no more to be found, they took off somewhere just like a dog. 

The speaker again revisits nature by saying that these things, that is the dog, took itself off into the mountains, to the sea, or the sky. Here, a dog cannot take itself off into the sky, hence the dog refers to all of these things that are missing in his life. 

“leaving/ behind: me, wag.” This last line has a subverted meaning. The dog or the happiness has left him behind, all alone. But the “wag” is still there, the motion of the dog, the motion of its tail, it’s still present with the speaker. This means that although the speaker is bored with these things, he knows they are valuable. He is aware that these things are what makes a person happy and it is his inability to enjoy these things that bores him. The poet makes this evident by using a colon after the word behind, making it look like “me, wag”. The speaker is bored of himself.