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
6 Poems / 6 Woodcuts (1953)
Genesis: Book I (1943)
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938)
Last And Lost Poems of Delmore Schwartz (1979)
Shenandoah and Other Verse Plays (1979)
Summer Knowledge: Selected Poems (1938-1958) (1959)
Vaudeville for a Princess and Other Poems (1950)
Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz (1970)
The Ego is Always at the Wheel: Bagatelles (1986)
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories (1978)
Successful Love and Other Stories (1961)
The World is a Wedding (1948)
"I am Cherry Alive," the Little Girl Sang (1979)
A Season in Hell: Une Saison en Enfer (1939)