Laura Sims at Poetry Magazine:
In John Berryman’s “Dream Song 29,” Henry suffers terrible guilt and self-doubt upon having contemplated—and possibly committed—murder. Like Oedipus who had already slept with his mother, killed his father, and blinded himself, Henry, “Ghastly, / with open eyes, … attends, blind.” Even blindness cannot keep him from “attend[ing]” the specter of murder, and “the bells say: too late.” But Henry, unlike Oedipus, is quickly given a reprieve—or so it seems—when, in the final stanza, the poem takes a nearly comical turn: “But never did Henry, as he thought he did, / end anyone and hacks her body up.” So, to our relief, and ostensibly to Henry’s, we learn that he never did the deed.
But this relief is more provisional than one would think. The only reason Henry “knows” he didn’t murder anyone is because “he went over everyone, & nobody’s missing”; he knows due to external evidence, due to the lack of missing persons, not because he knows himself. He lingers on the act of “reckon[ing], in the dawn, them up,” and then repeats, in the final line, “Nobody is ever missing,” as if to reassure himself.