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About this poet

Delmore Schwartz was born December 8, 1913, in Brooklyn. The marriage of his parents Harry and Rose, both Roumanian immigrants, was doomed to fail. Sadly, this misfortune with relationships was also a theme in Schwartz's life. His alcoholism, frequent use of barbiturates and amphetamines, and battles with various mental diseases, proved adverse in his relationships with women. His first marriage to Gertrude Buckman lasted six years; his second, to the young novelist Elizabeth Pollett, ended after his ceaseless paranoid accusations of adultery led him to attack an art critic with whom he believed Elizabeth was having an affair.

Despite his turbulent and unsettling home life as a child, Schwartz was a gifted and intellectual young student. He enrolled early at Columbia University, and also studied at the University of Wisconsin, eventually receiving his bachelor's degree in 1935 in philosophy from New York University. In 1936 he won the Bowdoin Prize in the Humanities for his essay "Poetry as Imitation." In 1937 his short story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" (successfully written in one month during the summer of 1935 after he locked himself in his Greenwich Village apartment) was published in Partisan Review, a left-wing magazine of American politics and culture; the following year this short story would be published by New Directions with other poetry and prose in his first book-length work, also titled In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. It was praised by many, including T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, and Vladimir Nabokov.

He never finished his advanced degree in philosophy at Harvard, but was hired as the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer, and later given an Assistant Professorship. Frustrated by what he believed was a sense of anti-Semitism within the school, in 1947 Schwartz ended his twelve-year association with Harvard and returned to New York City. His book of short stories The World is a Wedding was published the following year. Time compared Schwartz to Stendhal and Anton Chekhov. By this same time his work was widely anthologized. He was publishing critical essays on other important literary figures and cultural topics, and was the poetry editor at Partisan Review, and later also at New Republic.

His increasingly itinerant nature left him dependent on a series of teaching positions at Bennington College, Kenyon College, Princeton University, the writer's colony Yaddo, and at Syracuse University, in his last years. Among others, he inspired the student Lou Reed, who later dedicated "European Son" on the Velvet Underground's first album to Schwartz. In 1960 Schwartz became the youngest poet ever to win the Bollingen Prize. His friend Saul Bellow wrote a semi-fictional memoir about Schwartz called Humboldt's Gift, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

The last years of his life Schwartz was a solitary, disheveled figure in New York. He drank frequently at the White Horse Tavern, and spent his time sitting in parks and collecting bits of work, quotes, and translations in his journal. Finding himself penniless and virtually friendless, in the summer of 1966 Schwartz checked into the Times Squares hotel, perhaps to focus on his writing. Unfortunately by this time his body had been taxed by years of drug and alcohol abuse. He worked continuously until a heart attack on July 11 seized him in the lobby of the hotel.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

6 Poems / 6 Woodcuts (1953)
Genesis: Book I (1943)
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938)
Last And Lost Poems of Delmore Schwartz (1979)
Shenandoah (1941)
Shenandoah and Other Verse Plays (1979)
Summer Knowledge: Selected Poems (1938-1958) (1959)
Vaudeville for a Princess and Other Poems (1950)

Essays

Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz (1970)
The Ego is Always at the Wheel: Bagatelles (1986)

Fiction

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories (1978)
Successful Love and Other Stories (1961)
The World is a Wedding (1948)

For Children

"I am Cherry Alive," the Little Girl Sang (1979)

Translation

A Season in Hell: Une Saison en Enfer (1939)

The Ballad of the Children of the Czar

Delmore Schwartz, 1913 - 1966
          1

The children of the Czar   
Played with a bouncing ball

In the May morning, in the Czar's garden,   
Tossing it back and forth.

It fell among the flowerbeds   
Or fled to the north gate.

A daylight moon hung up
In the Western sky, bald white.

Like Papa's face, said Sister,   
Hurling the white ball forth.


          2

While I ate a baked potato   
Six thousand miles apart,

In Brooklyn, in 1916,   
Aged two, irrational.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt   
Was an Arrow Collar ad.

O Nicholas! Alas! Alas!
My grandfather coughed in your army,

Hid in a wine-stinking barrel,   
For three days in Bucharest

Then left for America
To become a king himself.


          3

I am my father's father,
You are your children's guilt.

In history's pity and terror   
The child is Aeneas again;

Troy is in the nursery,
The rocking horse is on fire.

Child labor! The child must carry   
His fathers on his back.

But seeing that so much is past   
And that history has no ruth

For the individual,
Who drinks tea, who catches cold,

Let anger be general:
I hate an abstract thing.


          4

Brother and sister bounced   
The bounding, unbroken ball,

The shattering sun fell down   
Like swords upon their play,

Moving eastward among the stars   
Toward February and October.

But the Maywind brushed their cheeks   
Like a mother watching sleep,

And if for a moment they fight   
Over the bouncing ball

And sister pinches brother   
And brother kicks her shins,

Well! The heart of man is known:   
It is a cactus bloom.


          5

The ground on which the ball bounces   
Is another bouncing ball.

The wheeling, whirling world   
Makes no will glad.

Spinning in its spotlight darkness,   
It is too big for their hands.

A pitiless, purposeless Thing,   
Arbitrary and unspent,

Made for no play, for no children,   
But chasing only itself.

The innocent are overtaken,   
They are not innocent.

They are their father's fathers,
The past is inevitable.


          6

Now, in another October   
Of this tragic star,

I see my second year,   
I eat my baked potato.

It is my buttered world,
But, poked by my unlearned hand,

It falls from the highchair down   
And I begin to howl.

And I see the ball roll under   
The iron gate which is locked.

Sister is screaming, brother is howling,   
The ball has evaded their will.

Even a bouncing ball   
Is uncontrollable,

And is under the garden wall.   
I am overtaken by terror

Thinking of my father's fathers,   
And of my own will.

From Selected Poems, copyright © 1959 by Delmore Schwartz. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

From Selected Poems, copyright © 1959 by Delmore Schwartz. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Delmore Schwartz

Delmore Schwartz

Delmore Schwartz was born December 8, 1913, in Brooklyn. The marriage of

by this poet

poem
        "the withness of the body""

The heavy bear who goes with me,   
A manifold honey to smear his face,   
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,   
The central ton of every place,   
The hungry beating brutish one   
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,   
Crazy factotum, disheveling all,   
Climbs