Berserk is one of two principal characters in "Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks," the other being the eponymous Prince himself -- a stand-in for the poet (and possibly for Stevens). The pair meet on a "bushy plain" seemingly in a dream:
In the moonlight/ I met Berserk./ In the moonlight/ On the bushy plain/ Oh, sharp he was/ as the sleepless!
Isn't Berserk an Adjective?Edit
Yes. According to the Free Online Dictionary , berserk refers to one who is "mentally or emotionally upset" and who may also be "destructively or frenetically violent." However, the etymological origin of the word may be more revealing in the case of this poem as the adjective derives from the Old Norse noun berserkr (i.e. berserker), "a wild warrior or champion." In the heat of battle, berserkers would become frenzied, foaming at the mouth, biting their shields, etc. Berserkers traditionally wore bear skins, a quirk which gave them their name: a compound of bera (bear) and serka (shirt or coat). As a character name, then, Berserk invokes a primal, animal violence.
What is Berserk Doing in this Poem?Edit
Helen Vendler, in Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen Out of Desire points out that in "Peacock" Stevens meets Berserk in a landscape colored with self-consciously cliched poetic signifiers -- "in the moonlight," "in the realm of dreams," et al. She proceeds to argue that Berserk, in this context, represents a rebuke to poeticism, to its rhetoric of metaphor, its commitment to fancy, its tendency toward escapism, and finally it's inability to articulate raw experience (15). Vendler makes the point stick by noting that Berserk is described as "sun-colored" and that in a number of other poems (especailly "Motive for Metaphor") wherein day or daylight or noon appear the words are associated with an anti-poetic, often brutal and un-faceable reality. In this way, Berserk acts as foil to Stevens' representation of the poet character as a preening peacock and ineffectual dreamer. What is more, Vendler claims, his presence forces, for a moment anyway, the poets' acknowledgment of the inadequacy of poetic fancy as a means of revising reality: "I knew from this/ that the blue ground/ was full of blocks/ and blocking steel" (24).