Daniel Berrigan Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Though he first gained recognition as a poet, Daniel Berrigan (BEHR-ih-gan) also became well known for his writings on religion, peace, and politics. As part of his mission as a Jesuit priest, he has published many books on religion and spirituality, from The Bride: Essays in the Church (1959) through such books as Jesus Christ (1973) and The Words Our Savior Gave Us (1978) to such later works as Job: And Death No Dominion (2000) and Wisdom: The Feminine Face of God (2002). To explain his civil disobedience, he has written a play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (pr., pb. 1970), which was produced off and on Broadway and all over the world (most notably by prisoners released after the defeat of the junta in Greece). To communicate his pacifistic message, he has used a variety of other genres, including parables (A Book of Parables, 1977), diaries (Lights on in the House of the Dead: A Prison Diary, 1974), and journals (Steadfastness of the Saints: A Journal of Peace and War in Central and North America, 1985). He has also published To Dwell in Peace: An Autobiography (1987), which is also a poetic meditation on his times.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Daniel Berrigan’s first book of poetry, Time Without Number, was nominated for a National Book Award and was named the Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets in 1957. Two other National Book Award nominations followed, for No One Walks Waters in 1967 and No Bars to Manhood in 1970. The Trial of the Catonsville Nine received several awards in 1971, including an Obie Award for Distinguished Production and two Los Angeles Drama Critics Awards. In 1974, the War Resisters League presented him with its award, which had previously been given to such people as Dorothy Day and Norman Thomas. In 1988, Berrigan received the Thomas Merton Award in recognition of his struggle for justice. The next year, he was honored with the Pax Christi USA Pope Paul VI Teacher of Peace Award. In 1993, he received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award; previous winners included such distinguished recipients as President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa. In 2000, Berrigan and his brother Philip were honored with the Vasyl Stus Award from PEN of New England. Berrigan was granted an honorary degree from the College of Wooster in 2008. When one of his publishers asked Berrigan to list his awards and honors, he impishly included his indictment and “4 felonies.”


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Aguilar, Mario I. Contemplating God, Changing the World. New York: Seabury Books, 2008. Aguilar looks at Berrigan and other political and social reformers such as Thomas Merton, Ernesto Cardenal, and Desmond Tutu.

Cargas, Harry J. Daniel Berrigan and Contemporary Protest Poetry. New Haven, Conn.: College and University Press, 1972. In this controversial brief book, the author so identifies with Berrigan’s activism and his poetry that he interprets the burning of draft records as “his finest poem.” He situates Berrigan’s protest poetry in the context of the work of Robert Lowell, Allen Ginsberg, and Amiri Baraka. Notes and references, as well as an index.

Casey, William Van Etten, and Philip Nobile, eds. The Berrigans. New York: Praeger, 1971. This book originated in a special issue of the Holy Cross Quarterly, which needed to print more than sixty thousand copies because of the surprising demand. Such notable figures as Noam Chomsky, Robert McAfee Brown, and Gordon C. Zahn reflect on the meaning and morality of the Berrigans’ civil disobedience. However, Father Andrew M. Greeley’s article, in which he argues that the Berrigans’ activities prolonged the Vietnam War, does not appear because Greeley did not grant reprint rights.

Deedy, John. Apologies, Good Friends . . . : An Interim Biography of Daniel Berrigan. Chicago: Fides/Claretian, 1981. This short account provides a well-written introduction to the first two-thirds of Berrigan’s life, with an emphasis on his peace activities.

Gray, Francine du Plessix. Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism. New York: Knopf, 1970. The bulk of this book first appeared in The New Yorker, and it is now widely available as a Vintage paperback. The author devotes well over half of her account to the Berrigans. While her principal concern is their political activism, she does show how Daniel Berrigan’s poetry served his efforts against war and for peace. Index.

Polner, Murray, and Jim O’Grady. Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan. New York: BasicBooks, 1997. The authors trace the paths of the Berrigans as they become activist priests and analyze their legacy.

True, Michael, ed. Daniel Berrigan: Poetry, Drama, Prose. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1988. This anthology contains selections from all the genres in which Berrigan has written, from poetry and parables to essays and autobiographical pieces. The book contains a helpful introduction and chronology (1921 to 1987), as well as a section on Berrigan’s books, films, and recordings.