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. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ezra 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.