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Delmore Schwartz (8 December 1913 ‚Äď 11 July 1966) was an American poet and short story writer from Brooklyn, New York.



Schwartz was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His parents separated when he was nine, and their divorce had a profound effect on him.

Schwartz spent time at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin before finally graduating from New York University in 1935. Soon after graduation, he made his parents' disastrous marriage the subject of his most famous short story, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" which was published in 1937 in the first issue of Partisan Review.[1] This story and other short stories and poems were collected and released in his first book, also entitled In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, in 1938. The book was well received, and made him a well-known figure in New York intellectual circles. His work received praise from some of the most respected people in literature, and he was considered one of the most gifted writers of his generation.

In 1937, he also married his first wife, a book reviewer for Partisan Review, Gertrude Buckman, whom he divorced after six years.

For the next couple of decades, he continued to publish stories, poems and plays, and edited the Partisan Review from 1943 to 1955 as well as The New Republic. In 1948, he married the much younger novelist, Elizabeth Pollett. This relationship also ended in divorce.

In 1959, he became the youngest-ever recipient of the Bollingen Prize, awarded for a collection of poetry he published that year, Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems. His poetry differed in many respects from his stories in that it was not especially autobiographical and was much more philosophical. His verse would also become increasingly abstract in his later years. He taught creative writing at six different universities, including Syracuse, Princeton, and Kenyon College.

In addition to being known as a gifted writer, Schwartz was considered a great conversationalist and spent much time entertaining friends at the White Horse Tavern in New York City.

Much of Schwartz's work is notable for its philosophical and deeply meditative nature, and the literary critic, R.W. Flint, wrote that Schwartz's stories were, "the definitive portrait of the Jewish middle class in New York during the Depression."[2]

He was unable to repeat or build on his early successes later in life as a result of alcoholism and mental illness, and his last years were spent in reclusion at the Hotel Marlon in New York City. In fact, Schwartz was so isolated from the rest of the world that when he died on July 11, 1966 at age 53, two days passed before hotel management discovered his body.

Schwartz was interred at Cedar Park Cemetery, in Emerson, New Jersey. [3]

A selection of his short-stories was published posthumously in 1978 under the title In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories and was edited by James Atlas who had just written a biography on Schwartz, Delmore Schwartz: The Life of An American Poet, two years prior. Later, another collection of Schwartz's work, Screeno: Stories & Poems, was published in 2004. This collection contained fewer stories than In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories but it also included a brief selection of some of Schwartz's best-known poems like "The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me" and "In The Naked Bed, In Plato's Cave." Screeno also featured an introduction by the fiction writer and essayist Cynthia Ozick.

Tributes to Schwartz

One year following Schwartz's death, in 1967, his former student at Syracuse University, the rock musician Lou Reed dedicated his song "European Son" to Schwartz (although the lyrics themselves made no direct reference to Schwartz). In the album "The Blue Mask", there is another homage - "My House", with lyrics directly related to Schwartz.

Then, in 1968, Schwartz's friend and peer, fellow-poet John Berryman dedicated his book His Toy, His Dream, His Rest "to the sacred memory of Delmore Schwartz" including 12 elegiac poems about Schwartz in the book. In "Dream Song #149," Berryman wrote of Schwartz,

In the brightness of his promise,

unstained, I saw him thro' the mist of the actual

blazing with insight, warm with gossip

thro' all our Harvard years

when both of us were just becoming known

I got him out of a police-station once, in Washington, the world is tref

and grief too astray for tears.[4]

The most ambitious literary tribute to Schwartz came in 1975 when Saul Bellow, a one-time protege of Schwartz's, published his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Humboldt's Gift which was based on his relationship with Schwartz. Although the character of Von Humboldt Fleischer is Bellow's portrait of Schwartz during Schwartz's declining years, the book is actually a testament to Schwartz's lasting artistic influence on Bellow.

Published works

  • In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938), a collection of short stories and poems
  • Shenandoah (1941), a verse play
  • Genesis (1943), a prose poem about the growth of a human being
  • World Is a Wedding (1948), a collection of short stories
  • Vaudeville for a Princess and Other Poems (1950)
  • Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems (1959)
  • Successful Love and Other Stories (1961)

Published posthumously:

  • Selected Essays (1970, ed. Donald Dike, David Zucker)
  • In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories (1978, New Directions), a short story collection
  • Letters of Delmore Schwartz (1984, ed. Robert Phillips)
  • The Ego Is Always at the Wheel: Bagatelles (1986, ed. Robert Phillips), a collection of humorously whimsical short essays
  • Last and Lost Poems (1989, ed. New Directions)
  • Screeno: Stories & Poems (2004, New Directions)


  1. ^ Howe, Irving. Foreword. In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories. By Delmore Schwartz. New York: New Directions, 1978. vii.
  2. ^ Flint, R.W. "The Stories of Delmore Schwartz." Commentary, April 1962.
  3. ^ "Sometimes the Grave Is a Fine and Public Place". New York Times. March 28, 2004.  
  4. ^ Berryman, John. "Dream Song #149". His Toy, His Dream, His Rest. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1968.

See also

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Delmore Schwartz (1913-12-08 ‚Äď 1966-07-11) was an American poet.


  • Each minute bursts in the burning room,
    The great globe reels in the solar fire,
    Spinning the trivial and unique away.

    (How all things flash! How all things flare!)
    What am I now that I was then?
    May memory restore again and again
    The smallest color of the smallest day:
    Time is the school in which we learn,
    Time is the fire in which we burn.

Selected Poems: Summer Knowledge (1959)

  • 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.
  • A car coughed, starting. Morning softly
    Melting the air, lifted the half-covered chair
    From underseas, kindled the looking-glass,
    Distinguished the dresser and the white wall.
    The bird called tentatively, whistled, called,
    Bubbled and whistled, so! Perplexed, still wet
    With sleep, affectionate, hungry and cold. So, so,
    O son of man, the ignorant night, the travail
    Of early morning, the mystery of the beginning
    Again and again,
    while history is unforgiven.
  • Whence, if ever, shall come the actuality
    Of a voice speaking the mind's knowing,
    The sunlight bright on the green windowshade,
    And the self articulate, affectionate, and flowing,
    Ease, warmth, light, the utter showing,
    When in the white bed all things are made.
  • But this, this which we say before we‚Äôre sorry,
    This which we live behind our unseen faces,
    Is neither dream, nor childhood, neither
    Myth, nor landscape, final, nor finished,
    For we are incomplete and know no future,
    And we are howling or dancing out our souls
    In beating syllables before the curtain:
    We are Shakespearean, we are strangers.
  • 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.

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