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Delmore Schwartz


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)

By This Poet


The Ballad of the Children of the Czar


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.