About this poet

Delmore Schwartz was born in Brooklyn to Romanian Jewish parents on December 8, 1913. He enrolled early at Columbia University and also attended the University of Wisconsin, eventually receiving his BA in philosophy from New York University in 1935. He went on to begin graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University, but he returned to New York before completing his studies.

In 1936 Schwartz won the Bowdoin Prize in the Humanities for his essay “Poetry as Imitation,” and in 1937 his short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” was published in Partisan Review. The following year this short story appeared with other poetry and prose in In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (New Directions, 1938), his first book-length work. As John Ashbery writes in The New Yorker, Schwartz’s “literary career had begun auspiciously, dazzlingly, with the publication” of this book, which also received praise from T.S. EliotWilliam Carlos WilliamsEzra Pound, and others.

Schwartz published several more books of poetry and prose during his lifetime, including Genesis: Book One (New Directions, 1938), a book-length poem; Vaudeville for a Princess and Other Poems (New Directions, 1950); and Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems (New Directions, 1959), which was awarded the Bollingen Prize. In addition, he published critical essays on important literary figures and cultural topics, and he served as the poetry editor at Partisan Review and New Republic.

He taught for many years at Harvard University, and he also took on teaching positions at Bennington College, Kenyon College, Princeton University, and Syracuse University.

John Ashbery writes that Schwartz’s was “the classic saga of a brilliant poet, first heralded as a genius, the greatest young poet of his day, who quickly burnt himself out as a result of mental illness and addictions to alcohol and narcotics.” Schwartz spent the last years of his life in New York City, where he was a frequent patron of the White Horse Tavern. In the summer of 1966, Schwartz checked into the Columbia Hotel near Times Square, perhaps to focus on his writing. He died there, of a heart attack, on July 11, 1966.

Selected Bibliography

Shenandoah (New Directions, 1941)
Genesis: Book I (New Directions, 1943)
Vaudeville for a Princess and Other Poems (New Directions, 1950)
Summer Knowledge: Selected Poems, 1938–1958 (Doubleday, 1959)
What Is to Be Given: Selected Poems (Carcanet New Press, 1976)
Last & Lost Poems (New Directions, 1989)
Once and For All: The Best of Delmore Schwartz (New Directions, 2016) 

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (New Directions, 1938)
The World Is a Wedding (New Directions, 1948)
Successful Love and Other Stories (Corinth Books, 1961)
Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz (University of Chicago Press, 1970)
The Ego is Always at the Wheel: Bagatelles (New Directions, 1986)

The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me

        "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 the building, kicks the football,   
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.

Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,   
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,   
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,   
A sweetness intimate as the water's clasp,   
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope   
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.   
—The strutting show-off is terrified,   
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,   
Trembles to think that his quivering meat   
Must finally wince to nothing at all.

That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,   
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,   
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit's motive,   
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,   
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,   
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,   
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,   
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed   
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,   
Amid the hundred million of his kind,   
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.

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

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