Delmore Schwartz Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although Delmore Schwartz thought of himself primarily as a poet, he wrote short stories, plays, and literary and film criticism as well. His masterful 1937 story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” prefigures the major concerns of his later work and provides the title for his first collection of poetry in the following year. The World Is a Wedding (1948) contains this and most of the remainder of Schwartz’s best stories. The later stories collected in Successful Love, and Other Stories (1961) are generally less noteworthy. Schwartz’s retooling of William Shakespeare in Coriolanus and His Mother, which occupies a large part of In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, and the autobiographical Shenandoah (pb. 1941) are interesting, if not particularly stageworthy, contributions to verse drama. A good sampling of his essays on modern literature and its critics—T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling—as well as occasional pieces on films such as The Seven Year Itch and The Blackboard Jungle reveals the characteristic interplay of his mind between high and popular culture, and may be found in the posthumous Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz (1970). Schwartz’s papers, recovered and presented to Yale University by his literary executor, Dwight Macdonald, mainly record the abandoned projects that littered Schwartz’s career.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Delmore Schwartz burst onto the New York literary scene when his best-known story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” was published in the front of the first issue of the revised Partisan Review in Autumn, 1937. Not yet twenty-four, Schwartz had passionately dramatized the adolescent trauma of the Jewish urban intellectual edging nervously into manhood in the 1930’s. Vladimir Nabokov ranked “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” among his half-dozen favorite modern stories. With the appearance of his first collection of poetry in 1938, Schwartz’s reputation was firmly established. This volume, again titled In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, was praised by such luminaries as Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, W. H. Auden, and Wallace Stevens as the work of the ablest of the younger American poets. Schwartz’s passionate rhetoric and unrelieved pessimism seemed to evoke perfectly the bleakness of the 1930’s in poems that explored the tragic gap between human aspiration and fulfillment. Before the age of twenty-five, Schwartz was bemoaning lost innocence and passing time and had fastened on his obsessive theme: the failure of life’s hopes. Schwartz would embody his own poignant illustration of the life of shattered dreams; only rarely would his poetry approach the brilliance of his first collection.

Schwartz pinned his hopes for enduring fame on Genesis, an epic poem that expressed the “Spirit of America” through the...

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Besides being an author of short fiction, Delmore Schwartz was a poet, playwright, critic, editor, and prolific letter writer.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Delmore Schwartz’s merit as both poet and short-story writer has been widely recognized. Along with his contemporaries John Berryman, Robert Lowell, and Randall Jarrell, Schwartz can be seen as a representative literary figure who poignantly lived and wrote about his personal struggles, which were also the struggles of a generation of American writers.

Schwartz’s stories deal, above all, with the problems associated with creating a Jewish identity in the United States. Schwartz obsessively depicts the son’s relation to his parents and a pre-American past. In the face of the twin burdens of an active intellect and a Jewish past, the son/hero is overwhelmed by a profound sense of alienation.

Doubtless these qualities, which made Schwartz a legend, were what attracted Saul Bellow sufficiently to create a fictionalized version of Schwartz in Humboldt’s Gift (1975). Ultimately, Schwartz’s life might be seen in the wider context of American literature. His negotiation of, and escape from, the trappings of mainstream American society are akin to those of Huckleberry Finn and Nick Adams.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Atlas, James. Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet. 1977. Reprint. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 2000. A full-length, comprehensive biography that attempts to cut through the poses and personae of Schwartz. Contains enriching details of Schwartz’s life and extracts of his poems illustrating his development as a poet.

Bawer, Bruce. The Middle Generation: The Lives and Poetry of Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Robert Lowell. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1986. Bawer persuasively argues that these poets “shared an affliction.” His particularly useful study, integrating biographical detail with literary analysis, teases out the important thematic threads connecting these late modern writers: rocky childhoods, quests for love and faith, and disillusionment in maturity.

Deutsch, Robert H. The Poetry of Delmore Schwartz. Edited by John N. Serio. Potsdam, N.Y.: Wallace Stevens Society Press, 2007. Presents critical analysis of the poetry of Schwartz, from the early to late works.

Ford, Edward. A Reevaluation of the Works of American Writer Delmore Schwartz, 1913-1966. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005. While at the time of his death Schwartz had been largely forgotten, later scholars have come to recognize his importance, as in this volume.


(The entire section is 415 words.)