Delmore Schwartz

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Delmore Schwartz
Delmore Schwartz.jpg
Born(1913-12-08)December 8, 1913
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 11, 1966(1966-07-11) (aged 52)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation Poet
Alma mater New York University
Genre Poetry, fiction
Notable worksIn Dreams Begin Responsibilities, Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems
Notable awards Bollingen Prize

Delmore Schwartz (December 8, 1913 – July 11, 1966) was an American poet and short story writer.

Poet person who writes and publishes poetry

A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.

Short story Brief work of literature, usually written in narrative prose

A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a "single effect" or mood, however there are many exceptions to this.


Early life

Schwartz was born in 1913 in Brooklyn, New York, where he also grew up. His parents, Harry and Rose, both Romanian Jews, separated when Schwartz was nine, and their divorce had a profound effect on him. He had a younger brother, Kenneth. [1] In 1930, Schwartz's father suddenly died at the age of 49. Though Harry had accumulated a good deal of wealth from his dealings in the real estate business, Delmore inherited only a small amount of that money as the result of the shady dealings of the executor of Harry's estate. According to Schwartz's biographer, James Atlas, "Delmore continued to hope that he would eventually receive his legacy [even] as late as 1946." [2]

James Atlas the president of Atlas & Company, publishers, and founding editor of the Penguin Lives Series. A Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and onetime contributor to The New Yorker, he was an editor at The New York Times Magazine for many years. He has edited volumes of poetry and has written several novels and two biographies. In 2002, he started Atlas Books, which at one time published two series in conjunction with HarperCollins and W.W. Norton. In 2007, the company was renamed Atlas & Company, to coincide with the launch of its new list. Atlas's work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Harper's, New York Magazine, and Huffington Post.

Schwartz spent time at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin before graduating with a B.A. from New York University in 1935. He then did some graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University, where he studied with the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, but left and returned to New York without receiving a degree. [2]

Columbia University Private Ivy League research university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. Established in 1754, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. It has been ranked by numerous major education publications as among the top ten universities in the world.

New York University private research university in New York, NY, United States

New York University (NYU) is a private research university originally founded in New York City but now with campuses and locations throughout the world. Founded in 1831, NYU's historical campus is in Greenwich Village, New York City. As a global university, students can graduate from its degree-granting campuses in NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai, as well as study at its 12 academic centers in Accra, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C.

Harvard University private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

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

Career in writing

Soon thereafter, 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 . [3] This story and other short stories and poems became his first book, also titled In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, published in 1938 when Schwartz was only 25 years old. 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, including T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound, and Schwartz was considered one of the most gifted and promising young writers of his generation. [4] According to James Atlas, Allen Tate responded to the book by stating that "[Schwartz's] poetic style marked 'the first real innovation we've had since Eliot and Pound.'" [5]

"In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" is a short story by American poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz. "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" is widely regarded as one of Schwartz's finest stories and is frequently anthologized. Of all of Schwartz's stories, it is probably his best-known and most influential.

<i>Partisan Review</i> leftist arts and politics magazine

Partisan Review (PR) was a small circulation quarterly "little magazine" dealing with literature, politics, and cultural commentary published in New York City. The magazine was launched in 1934 by the Communist Party, USA-affiliated John Reed Club of New York and was initially part of the Communist political orbit. Growing disaffection on the part of PR's primary editors began to make itself felt, however, and the magazine abruptly suspended publication in the fall of 1936. When the magazine reemerged late in 1937, it came with additional editors and new writers who advanced a political line deeply critical of Stalin's USSR.

T. S. Eliot English author

Thomas Stearns Eliot,, "one of the twentieth century's major poets" was also an essayist, publisher, playwright, and literary and social critic. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States, to a prominent Boston Brahmin family, he moved to England in 1914 at the age of 25, settling, working, and marrying there. He became a British subject in 1927 at the age of 39, renouncing his American passport.

For the next couple of decades, he continued to publish stories, poems, plays, and essays, and edited the Partisan Review from 1943 to 1955, as well as The New Republic . Schwartz was deeply upset when his epic poem, Genesis, which he published in 1943 and hoped would stand alongside other Modernist epics like The Waste Land and The Cantos as a masterpiece, received a negative critical response. [2] Later, in 1948, he married the much younger novelist, Elizabeth Pollet. This relationship also ended in divorce.

<i>The New Republic</i> magazine

The New Republic is an American magazine of commentary on politics and the arts, published since 1914, with influence on American political and cultural thinking. Founded in 1914 by leaders of the progressive movement, it attempted to find a balance between a humanitarian progressivism and an intellectual scientism, and ultimately discarded the latter. Through the 1980s and '90s, the magazine incorporated elements of "Third Way" neoliberalism and conservatism.

<i>The Waste Land</i> poem by T.S. Eliot

The Waste Land is a poem by T. S. Eliot, widely regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th century and a central work of modernist poetry. Published in 1922, the 434-line poem first appeared in the United Kingdom in the October issue of Eliot's The Criterion and in the United States in the November issue of The Dial. It was published in book form in December 1922. Among its famous phrases are "April is the cruellest month", "I will show you fear in a handful of dust", and the mantra in the Sanskrit language "Shantih shantih shantih".

<i>The Cantos</i> long, incomplete poem in 116 sections (“cantos”), written by Ezra Pound from 1915 to 1962

The Cantos by Ezra Pound is a long, incomplete poem in 116 sections, each of which is a canto. Most of it was written between 1915 and 1962, although much of the early work was abandoned and the early cantos, as finally published, date from 1922 onwards. It is a book-length work, widely considered to be an intense and challenging read. The Cantos is generally considered one of the most significant works of modernist poetry in the 20th century. As in Pound's prose writing, the themes of economics, governance and culture are integral to the work's content.

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 from his stories in that it was less autobiographical and more philosophical. His verse also became increasingly abstract in his later years. He taught creative writing at six universities, including Syracuse, Princeton, and Kenyon College.

The Bollingen Prize for Poetry is a literary honor bestowed on an American poet in recognition of the best book of new verse within the last two years, or for lifetime achievement. It is awarded every two years by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University.

Syracuse University University located in Syracuse, New York, United States

Syracuse University is a private research university in Syracuse, New York, United States. The institution's roots can be traced to the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, founded in 1831 by the Methodist Episcopal Church in Lima, New York. After several years of debate over relocating the college to Syracuse, the university was established in 1870, independent of the college. Since 1920, the university has identified itself as nonsectarian, although it maintains a relationship with The United Methodist Church.

Princeton University University in Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The institution moved to Newark in 1747, then to the current site nine years later, and renamed itself Princeton University in 1896.

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.

from "The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me"

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." [6] In particular, Schwartz emphasized the large divide that existed between his generation (which came of age during the Depression) and his parents' generation (who had often come to the United States as first-generation immigrants and whose idealistic view of America differed greatly from his own). In another take on Schwartz's fiction, Morris Dickstein wrote that "Schwartz’s best stories are either poker-faced satirical takes on the bohemians and outright failures of his generation, as in 'The World Is a Wedding' and 'New Year’s Eve,' or chronicles of the distressed lives of his parents’ generation, for whom the promise of American life has not panned out." [7]

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 written a biography of Schwartz, Delmore Schwartz: The Life of An American Poet, two years earlier. 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 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.


Schwartz 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 seclusion at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. In fact, Schwartz was so isolated from the rest of the world that when he died in his hotel room on July 11, 1966, at age 52, of a heart attack, two days passed before his body was identified at the morgue. [2] [8]

Schwartz was interred at Cedar Park Cemetery, in Emerson, New Jersey. [9]


One of the earliest tributes to Schwartz came from Schwartz's friend, fellow poet Robert Lowell, who published the poem "To Delmore Schwartz" in 1959 (while Schwartz was still alive) in the book Life Studies . In it, Lowell reminisces about the time that the two poets lived together in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1946, writing that they were "underseas fellows, nobly mad,/ we talked away our friends." [10]

Schwartz's former student at Syracuse University, Lou Reed, was the singer and principle songwriter for the band the Velvet Underground. Wanting to dedicate a song to Schwartz on their debut album The Velvet Underground and Nico Reed chose "European Son" as it had the fewest lyrics; rock and roll lyrics were something Schwartz abhorred. [11] The song was recorded in April 1966, three months before Schwartz's death but was not released until March 1967. According to musicologist Richard Witts, the song "reads like little more than a song of loathing" to Schwartz, who refused to see Reed while living at the Chelsea Hotel. [12] The first pressing of The Velvet Underground & Nico referred to the song as "European Son (to Delmore Schwartz)". [13]

Lou Reed's 1982 solo album The Blue Mask includes his second Schwartz homage with the song "My House". A more direct tribute to Schwartz than the Velvet Underground's "European Son", the lyrics of "My House" are about Reed's relationship with Schwartz. In the song, Reed writes that Schwartz "was the first great man that I ever met". [14]

In the June 2012 issue of Poetry magazine, Lou Reed published a short prose tribute to Schwartz entitled "O Delmore How I Miss You." [15] In the piece, Reed quotes and references a number of Schwartz's short stories and poems including "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," "The World is a Wedding," and "The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me." "O Delmore How I Miss You" was re-published as the preface to the New Directions 2012 reissue of Schwartz's posthumously published story collection In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories. [16]

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. [17]

The most ambitious literary tribute to Schwartz came in 1975, when Saul Bellow, a one-time protégé of Schwartz, 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. Although he is a genius, the Fleischer/Schwartz character struggles financially and has trouble finding a secure university teaching position. He becomes increasingly paranoid and jealous of the success of the main character, Charlie Citrine (who is based upon Bellow himself), becoming isolated and descending into alcoholism and madness.

In John A. McDermott's poetry collection, The Idea of God in Tennessee, he includes a poem written for and referencing Schwartz, titled The Poet's Body, Unclaimed in the Manhattan Morgue. The poem makes mention of Schwartz's writing, daily habits, and death.

A play by Romulus Linney about Schwartz's friendship with Milton Klonsky, Schwartz's protege and friend and a writer of nonfiction, was presented at Ensemble Theater Company in New York City in November and December 2005, and at The Redhouse Theatre in Syracuse, NY, during its 2004/05 season.

Cultural references

Published works

Published posthumously

See also

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  1. 1930 United States Federal Census
  2. 1 2 3 4 Atlas, James (1977). Delmore Schwartz: The Life of An American Poet. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. p. 32. ISBN   978-0374137618.
  3. Schwartz, Delmore; Howe, Irving (1978). "Foreword". In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories. New York: New Directions. p. vii. ISBN   978-0811206808.
  4. Poetry Foundation Podcast
  5. Schwartz, Delmore; Atlas, James (1978). "Introduction". In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories. New York: New Directions. ISBN   978-0811206808.
  6. R. W. Flint, "The Stories of Delmore Schwartz", Commentary, April 1962.
  7. Dickstein, Morris. "Growing Pains: Delmore Schwartz, Forgotten Genius". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  9. Strauss, Robert (March 28, 2004). "Sometimes the Grave Is a Fine and Public Place". New York Times.
  10. Robert Lowell, Collected Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.
  11. Harvard, Joe (2007) [2004]. The Velvet Underground & Nico. 33⅓. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 132 / 136. ISBN   0-8264-1550-4.
  12. Witts, Richard (2006). The Velvet Underground. Indiana University Press. p. 63. ISBN   0253218322.
  13. Clinton Heylin, ed. (2005). All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print 1966-1971 (first ed.). United States: Da Capo Press. pp. 200, 251. ISBN   0-306-81477-3.
  14. Reed, Lou. "My House." The Blue Mask. RCA: 1982.
  15. Reed, Lou. "O Delmore How I Miss You." Poetry: June 2012
  16. Marmer, Jake. "Lou Reed's Rabbi." Tablet Magazine. Retrieved May 5, 2014.
  17. John Berryman, "Dream Song #149" in His Toy, His Dream, His Rest. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1968.
  18. Scott Spencer Endless Love (New York: Knopf, 1979), ISBN   978-0-88001-628-5
  19. Philip Ridley Shivered (London: Methuen Drama, 2012), ISBN   978-1-4081-7259-9
  20. Bailie, Stuart (13 June 1992). "Rock and Roll Should Be This Big!". NME .
  21. U2 (1991). Achtung Baby (music album). London, United Kingdom: Island Records. CIDU28, 510347-2. Liner notes.
  22. "Acrobat", lyrics. U2 Official Website. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  23. New York Times review of Collected Stories