Delmore Schwartz |
I am a poet of the Hudson River and the heights above it,
the lights, the stars, and the bridges
I am also by self-appointment the laureate of the Atlantic
-of the peoples' hearts, crossing it
to new America.
I am burdened with the truck and chimera, hope,
acquired in the sweating sick-excited passage
in steerage, strange and estranged
Hence I must descry and describe the kingdom of emotion.
For I am a poet of the kindergarten (in the city)
and the cemetery (in the city)
And rapture and ragtime and also the secret city in the
heart and mind
This is the song of the natural city self in the 20th century.
It is true but only partly true that a city is a "tyranny of
(This is the chant of the urban metropolitan and
After the first two World Wars of the 20th century)
--- This is the city self, looking from window to lighted
When the squares and checks of faintly yellow light
Shine at night, upon a huge dim board and slab-like tombs,
Hiding many lives.
It is the city consciousness
Which sees and says: more: more and more: always more.
Delmore Schwartz |
Is the spider a monster in miniature?
His web is a cruel stair, to be sure,
Designed artfully, cunningly placed,
A delicate trap, carefully spun
To bind the fly (innocent or unaware)
In a net as strong as a chain or a gun.
There are far more spiders than the man in the street
And the philosopher-king imagines, let alone knows!
There are six hundred kinds of spiders and each one
Differs in kind and in unkindness.
In variety of behavior spiders are unrivalled:
The fat garden spider sits motionless, amidst or at the heart
Of the orb of its web: other kinds run,
Scuttling across the floor, falling into bathtubs,
Trapped in the path of its own wrath, by overconfidence
drowned and undone.
Other kinds - more and more kinds under the stars and
the sun -
Are carnivores: all are relentless, ruthless
Enemies of insects.
Their methods of getting food
Are unconventional, numerous, various and sometimes
Some spiders spin webs as beautiful
As Japanese drawings, intricate as clocks, strong as rocks:
Others construct traps which consist only
Of two sticky and tricky threads.
Yet this ambush is enough
To bind and chain a crawling ant for long
The famished spider feels the vibration
Which transforms patience into sensation and satiation.
The handsome wolf spider moves suddenly freely and relies
Upon lightning suddenness, stealth and surprise,
Possessing accurate eyes, pouncing upon his victim with the
speed of surmise.
Courtship is dangerous: there are just as many elaborate
and endless techniques and varieties
As characterize the wooing of more analytic, more
introspective beings: Sometimes the male
Arrives with the gift of a freshly caught fly.
Sometimes he ties down the female, when she is frail,
With deft strokes and quick maneuvres and threads of silk:
But courtship and wooing, whatever their form, are
By extreme caution, prudence, and calculation,
For the female spider, lazier and fiercer than the male
May make a meal of him if she does not feel in the same
mood, or if her appetite
Consumes her far more than the revelation of love's
Here among spiders, as in the higher forms of nature,
The male runs a terrifying risk when he goes seeking for
the bounty of beautiful Alma Magna Mater:
Yet clearly and truly he must seek and find his mate and
match like every other living creature!
Delmore Schwartz |
The riches of the poet are equal to his poetry
His power is his left hand
It is idle weak and precious
His poverty is his wealth, a wealth which may destroy him
like Midas Because it is that laziness which is a form of impatience
And this he may be destroyed by the gold of the light
which never was
On land or sea.
He may be drunken to death, draining the casks of excess
That extreme form of success.
He may suffer Narcissus' destiny
Unable to live except with the image which is infatuation
Love, blind, adoring, overflowing
Unable to respond to anything which does not bring love
quickly or immediately.
The poet must be innocent and ignorant
But he cannot be innocent since stupidity is not his strong
Therefore Cocteau said, "What would I not give
To have the poems of my youth withdrawn from
I would give to Satan my immortal soul.
This metaphor is wrong, for it is his immortal soul which
he wished to redeem,
Lifting it and sifting it, free and white, from the actuality of
youth's banality, vulgarity,
pomp and affectation of his early
works of poetry.
So too in the same way a Famous American Poet
When fame at last had come to him sought out the fifty copies
of his first book of poems which had been privately printed
by himself at his own expense.
He succeeded in securing 48 of the 50 copies, burned them
And learned then how the last copies were extant,
As the law of the land required, stashed away in the national capital,
at the Library of Congress.
Therefore he went to Washington, therefore he took out the last two
Placed them in his pocket, planned to depart
Only to be halted and apprehended.
Since he was the author,
Since they were his books and his property he was reproached
But the two copies were taken away from him
Thus setting a national precedent.
For neither amnesty nor forgiveness is bestowed upon poets, poetry and poems,
For William James, the lovable genius of Harvard
spoke the terrifying truth: "Your friends may forget, God
may forgive you, But the brain cells record
your acts for the rest of eternity.
What a terrifying thing to say!
This is the endless doom, without remedy, of poetry.
This is also the joy everlasting of poetry.
Delmore Schwartz |
I Christmas Poem for Nancy
We live and we die
Between heaven and hell
Between the earth and the sky
And all shall be well
And all shall be unwell
And once again! all shall once again!
All shall be well
By the ringing and the swinging
of the great beautiful holiday bell
Of Noel! Noel!
II Salute Valentine
I'll drink to thee only with my eyes
When two are three and four,
And guzzle reality's rise and cries
And praise the truth beyond surmise
When small shots shout: More! More! More! More!
III Rabbi to Preach
Rabbi Robert Raaba will preach
on "An Eye for an Eye"
(an I for an I?)
(Two weeks from this week: "On the Sacred Would")
At Temple Sholem on Lake Shore Drive
- Pavel Slavensky will chant the liturgical responses
And William Leon, having now thirteen years
will thank his parents that he exists
To celebrate his birthday of manhood, his chocolate
Bar Mitzvah, his yum-yum kippered herring, his Russian
Delmore Schwartz |
"little soul, little flirting,
little perverse one
where are you off to now?
little wan one, firm one
little exposed one.
and never make fun of me again.
Now I must betray myself.
The feast of bondage and unity is near,
And none engaged in that great piety
When each bows to the other, kneels, and takes
Hand in hand, glance and glance, care and care,
None may wear masks or enigmatic clothes,
For weakness blinds the wounded face enough.
In sense, see my shocking nakedness.
I gave a girl an apple when five years old,
Saying, Will you be sorry when I am gone?
Ravenous for such courtesies, my name
Is fed like a raving fire, insatiate still.
But do not be afraid.
For I forget myself.
I do indeed
Before each genuine beauty, and I will
Forget myself before your unknown heart.
I will forget the speech my mother made
In a restaurant, trapping my father there
At dinner with his whore.
Her spoken rage
Struck down the child of seven years
With shame for all three, with pity for
The helpless harried waiter, with anger for
The diners gazing, avid, and contempt
And great disgust for every human being.
I will remember this.
My mother's rhetoric
Has charmed my various tongue, but now I know
Love's metric seeks a rhyme more pure and sure.
For thus it is that I betray myself,
Passing the terror of childhood at second hand
Through nervous, learned fingertips.
At thirteen when a little girl died,
I walked for three weeks neither alive nor dead,
And could not understand and still cannot
The adult blind to the nearness of the dead,
Or carefully ignorant of their own death.
--This sense could shadow all the time's curving fruits,
But we will taste of them the whole night long,
Forgetting no twelfth night, no fete of June,
But in the daylight knowing our nothingness.
Let Freud and Marx be wedding guests indeed!
Let them mark out masks that face us there,
For of all anguish, weakness, loss and failure,
No form is cruel as self-deception, none
Shows day-by-day a bad dream long lived
And unbroken like the lies
We tell each other because we are rich or poor.
Though from the general guilt not free
We can keep honor by being poor.
The waste, the evil, the abomination
the perfect stars persist
Small in the guilty night,
and Mozart shows
The irreducible incorruptible good
Risen past birth and death, though he is dead.
Hope, like a face reflected on the windowpane,
Remote and dim, fosters a myth or dream,
And in that dream, I speak, I summon all
Who are our friends somehow and thus I say:
"Bid the jewellers come with monocles,
Exclaiming, Pure! Intrinsic! Final!
Summon the children eating ice cream
To speak the chill thrill of immediacy.
Call for the acrobats who tumble
The ecstasy of the somersault.
Bid the self-sufficient stars be piercing
In the sublime and inexhaustible blue.
"Bring a mathematician, there is much to count,
The unending continuum of my attention:
Infinity will hurry his multiplied voice!
Bring the poised impeccable diver,
Summon the skater, precise in figure,
He knows the peril of circumstance,
The risk of movement and the hard ground.
Summon the florist! And the tobacconist!
All who have known a plant-like beauty:
Summon the charming bird for ignorant song.
"You, Athena, with your tired beauty,
Will you give me away? For you must come
In a bathing suit with that white owl
Whom, as I walk, I will hold in my hand.
You too, Crusoe, to utter the emotion
Of finding Friday, no longer alone;
You too, Chaplin, muse of the curbstone,
Mummer of hope, you understand!"
But this is fantastic and pitiful,
And no one comes, none will, we are alone,
And what is possible is my own voice,
Speaking its wish, despite its lasting fear;
Speaking of its hope, its promise and its fear,
The voice drunk with itself and rapt in fear,
Rhetoric and hope, and always fear:
"For fifty-six or for a thousand years,
I will live with you and be your friend,
And what your body and what your spirit bears
I will like my own body cure and tend.
But you are heavy and my body's weight
Is great and heavy: when I carry you
I lift upon my back time like a fate
Near as my heart, dark when I marry you.
"The voice's promise is easy, and hope
Is drunk, and wanton, and unwilled;
In time's quicksilver, where our desires grope,
The dream is warped or monstrously fulfilled,
In this sense, listen, listen, and draw near:
Love is inexhaustible and full of fear.
This life is endless and my eyes are tired,
So that, again and again, I touch a chair,
Or go to the window, press my face
Against it, hoping with substantial touch,
Colorful sight, or turning things to gain once more
The look of actuality, the certainty
Of those who run down stairs and drive a car.
Then let us be each other's truth, let us
Affirm the other's self, and be
The other's audience, the other's state,
Each to the other his sonorous fame.
Now you will be afraid, when, waking up,
Before familiar morning, by my mute side
Wan and abandoned then, when, waking up,
You see the lion or lamb upon my face
Or see the daemon breathing heavily
His sense of ignorance, his wish to die,
For I am nothing because my circus self
Divides its love a million times.
I am the octopus in love with God,
For thus is my desire inconclusible,
Until my mind, deranged in swimming tubes,
Issues its own darkness, clutching seas
---O God of my perfect ignorance,
Bring the New Year to my only sister soon,
Take from me strength and power to bless her head,
Give her the magnitude of secular trust,
Until she turns to me in her troubled sleep,
Seeing me in my wish, free from self-wrongs.
Delmore Schwartz |
Twenty-eight naked young women bathed by the shore
Or near the bank of a woodland lake
Twenty-eight girls and all of them comely
Worthy of Mack Sennett's camera and Florenz Ziegfield's
They splashed and swam with the wondrous unconsciousness
Of their youth and beauty
In the full spontaneity and summer of the fieshes of
Heightened, intensified and softened
By the soft and the silk of the waters
Blooded made ready by the energy set afire by the
nakedness of the body,
Electrified: deified: undenied.
A young man of thirty years beholds them from a distance.
He lives in the dungeon of ten million dollars.
He is rich, handsome and empty standing behind the linen curtains
Which girl does he think most desirable, most beautiful?
They are all equally beautiful and desirable from the gold distance.
For if poverty darkens discrimination and makes
perception too vivid,
The gold of wealth is also a form of blindness.
For has not a Frenchman said, Although this is America.
What he has said is not entirely relevant,
That a naked woman is a proof of the existence of God.
Where is he going?
Is he going to be among them to splash and to laugh with them?
They did not see him although he saw them and was there among them.
He saw them as he would not have seen them had they been conscious
Of him or conscious of men in complete depravation:
This is his enchantment and impoverishment
As he possesses them in gaze only.
He felt the wood secrecy, he knew the June softness
The warmth surrounding him crackled
Held in by the mansard roof mansion
He glimpsed the shadowy light on last year's brittle leaves fallen,
Looked over and overlooked, glimpsed by the fall of death,
Winter's mourning and the May's renewal.
Delmore Schwartz |
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.
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 in 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
And is under the garden wall.
I am overtaken by terror
Thinking of my father's fathers,
And of my own will.
Delmore Schwartz |
Nothing is given which is not taken.
Little or nothing is taken which is not freely desired,
freely, truly and fully.
"You would not seek me if you had not found me": this is
true of all that is supremely desired and admired.
"An enigma is an animal," said the hurried, harried
And a horse divided against itself cannot stand;
And a moron is a man who believes in having too many
wives: what harm is there in that?
O the endless fecundity of poetry is equaled
By its endless inexhaustible freshness, as in the discovery
of America and of poetry.
Hence it is clear that the truth is not strait and narrow but infinite:
All roads lead to Rome and to poetry
and to poem, sweet poem
and from, away and towards are the same typography.
Hence the poet must be, in a way, stupid and naive and a
Unless ye be as a little child ye cannot enter the kingdom
Hence the poet must be able to become a tiger like Blake; a
carousel like Rilke.
Hence he must be all things to be free, for all impersonations
a doormat and a monument
to all situations possible or actual
The cuckold, the cuckoo, the conqueror, and the coxcomb.
It is to him in the zoo that the zoo cries out and the hyena:
"Hello, take off your hat, king of the beasts, and be seated,
And hence the poet must seek to be essentially anonymous.
He must die a little death each morning.
He must swallow his toad and study his vomit
as Baudelaire studied la charogne of Jeanne Duval.
The poet must be or become both Keats and Renoir and
Keats as Renoir.
Mozart as Figaro and Edgar Allan Poe as Ophelia, stoned
out of her mind
drowning in the river called forever river and ever.
Keats as Mimi, Camille, and an aging gourmet.
He must also refuse the favors of the unattainable lady
(As Baudelaire refused Madame Sabatier when the fair
blonde summoned him,
For Jeanne Duval was enough and more than enough,
although she cuckolded him
With errand boys, servants, waiters; reality was Jeanne Duval.
Had he permitted Madame Sabatier to teach the poet a greater whiteness,
His devotion and conception of the divinity of Beauty
would have suffered an absolute diminution.
The poet must be both Casanova and St.
He must be Adonis, Nero, Hippolytus, Heathcliff, and
Genghis Kahn, Genghis Cohen, and Gordon Martini
Dandy Ghandi and St.
Professor Tenure, and Dizzy the dean and Disraeli of Death.
He would have worn the horns of existence upon his head,
He would have perceived them regarding the looking-glass,
He would have needed them the way a moose needs a hatrack;
Above his heavy head and in his loaded eyes, black and scorched,
He would have seen the meaning of the hat-rack, above the glass
Looking in the dark foyer.
For the poet must become nothing but poetry,
He must be nothing but a poem when he is writing
Until he is absent-minded as the dead are
Forgetful as the nymphs of Lethe and a lobotomy.
("the fat weed that rots on Lethe wharf").
Delmore Schwartz |
"the withness of the body" --Whitehead
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, dishevelling 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.
Delmore Schwartz |
This is the greatest thing in North America:
Europe is the greatest thing in North America!
High in the sky, dark in the heart, and always there
Among the natural powers of sunlight and of air,
Changing, second by second, shifting and changing the
Bring fresh rain to the stone of the library steps.
Under the famous names upon the pediment:
Cicero, Augustine, Scotus, Galileo,
Joseph, Odysseus, Hamlet, Columbus and Spinoza,
Anna Karenina, Alyosha Karamazov, Sherlock Holmes.
And the last three also live upon the silver screen
Three blocks away, in moonlight's artificial day,
A double bill in the darkened palace whirled,
And the veritable glittering light of the turning world's
Burning mind and blazing imagination, showing, day by
And week after week the desires of the heart and mind
Of all the living souls yearning everywhere
From Canada to Panama, from Brooklyn to Paraguay,
From Cuba to Vancouver, every afternoon and every night.