Delmore Schwartz (shwawrts) was one of the poets of the “middle generation,” so called by critic Bruce Bawer, who took his cue from some lines by Robert Lowell. That generation of poets included Lowell, Randall Jarrell, and John Berryman as well as Schwartz, who in some ways led the group into poetry. It was he who first published a book, and it was he who showed the way in contemporary American poetry during the years before and during World War II.
Born in New York City of parents whose families had emigrated from Romania when they were very young, Schwartz was raised in an unhappy household. His autobiographical poem Genesis recounts some of his experiences as a child and his reactions to his parents, who were eventually divorced when Schwartz was a teenager. Educated at the University of Wisconsin and New York University, Schwartz later taught at Harvard University, where he undertook graduate work in philosophy. He had already begun writing poetry as a student in George Washington High School, where he was encouraged by his teacher, Mary J. J. Wrinn, who included some of his work in her book The Hollow Reed (1935). During his college years Schwartz wrote criticism as well as poetry, and by the time his first book appeared he was being hailed as “the American Auden.”
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities is a collection of poetry and prose, including the title story and some of the poems that had earlier appeared in magazines and journals, such as Poetry and The Partisan Review. In his early work, Schwartz was clearly influenced not only by W. H. Auden but also by poets of the older generation—William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound—and by Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. In fact, his autobiographical poem Genesis is heavily influenced by Freudian psychology, which was not, however, to remain a lasting influence any more than Marxist philosophy was.
Some of his finest poems, frequently anthologized ever since, nevertheless reflect a new voice. “The Heavy Bear...
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