Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 245
"The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me" is a poem in which the man recognizes "the secret life of belly and bone" within him; that is, he perceives a separation of mind and body. This "hungry beating brutish" part of him is comprised of his erotic desires, his hunger, and his sensual appetites. At times this part of him causes him embarrassment—"stupid clown of the spirit's motive"—or it perplexes him.
Stretches to embrace the very dearWith whom I would walk without him near,Touches her grossly, although a wordWould bare my heart and make me clear
The strutting show-off is terrified . . .Trembles to think that his quivering meat
Must finally wince to nothing at all.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520
Delmore Schwartz has been described by the editors of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973) as a poet concerned about “divisions within his own consciousness,” and “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me” dramatizes that division. In the poem, Schwartz personifies his own body and gives it a life apart from his consciousness. The speaker of the poem is actually the disembodied mental consciousness of the poet, who offers observations on the physical part of his humanity as if it were a separate being. To dramatize the differences between mind and body, Schwartz describes the body as if it were a bear.
The three irregular stanzas of the poem offer an analysis of the “heavy bear” that seems to accompany the speaker wherever he goes. This “Clumsy and lumbering” creature (line 3) that loves “candy, anger, and sleep” (line 6) carries on an active existence at the speaker’s side. The speaker describes the bear as a “factotum,” one that acts on behalf of another—in this case, the bear is acting for the speaker, as if the speaker were giving directions but not directly taking part in the experiences which the bear undergoes.
This constant companion that eats and sleeps with the speaker does not seem to be able to communicate coherently; instead, the bear howls to express its feelings. This animalistic cry signals its hunger—for sugar and other sweets—and also its fear. Breaking the spell he has created by suggesting that the bear is simply an unconscious animal who has attached himself to the speaker, Schwartz notes how such fear is engendered by terrifying dreams in which the bear is confronted with notions of death and the nothingness that waits after death. The awareness that “his quivering meat” will one day “wince to nothing at all” (lines 18-19) causes the bear to “tremble”—a word Schwartz uses twice in the same stanza, perhaps to suggest the existential nature of the bear’s (and man’s) existence.
At the beginning of the final stanza, the narrator stresses that this “inescapable animal” (line 20) which “Moves where I move” (line 22) appears to be a caricature of the self. The flesh-ridden creature is almost an embarrassment to the rather sophisticated narrator, who sees his companion getting in the way when the narrator wishes to be most human. For example, when the narrator’s beloved is near, the bear touches her “grossly” (line 30) just at the moment when the narrator wishes to convey some expression of tenderness; the narrator cannot “bare [his] heart” and make his feelings clear to his loved one (line 31). No matter what he does, the narrator is unable to rid himself of his earthy companion, that “drag[s] me with him in his mouthing care” (line 33)—that is, off to satisfy his visceral needs—amid “the hundred million of his kind” (line 34) that have the same bodily desires and demands. The recognition that the bear is but one of so many exactly like him is a subtle reminder that humans, too, no matter how unique they believe they are, share many of their human characteristics with millions of others.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455
“The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me” is in some ways reminiscent of the short tales that compose the popular medieval Bestiary; as the authors of A Literary History of England, Vol. I: The Middle Ages (1967) note, in that work descriptions of various animals are “followedby a Christian application or moral.” Schwartz uses a similar technique in associating the physical qualities of the bear with those of the human body in order to make a point about the inseparability of the two parts of human nature: the physical self and the spiritual or mental self.
Schwartz follows traditional rules of poetic composition only loosely in this lyric. The irregular stanzas are more like verse paragraphs, each providing separate descriptions of the bear’s physical characteristics and his relation to the speaker. Some use is made of rhyme, but no strict patterns emerge; for example, the rhyme scheme of the first stanza is abcbdeffa. More common is Schwartz’s reliance on some form of stop at the end of each line. All but six of the poem’s thirty-five lines are punctuated at the end, and the syntax of the poem demands that the reader pause at the end of three of the unpunctuated lines. This technique mirrors the sense of clumsiness, the halting, lumbering attitude of the bear; readers will find themselves stumbling from line to line, dragged along in the same way the speaker says the bear is “dragging” him along as a constant companion through life.
Schwartz makes extensive use of active verbs to describe the bear’s behavior. The animal “climbs,” “kicks,” “howls,” “trembles,” “stumbles,” and “flounders.” He couples these words with nouns and adjectives that further emphasize the bear’s physical, brutish nature: The bear is “clumsy,” “lumbering,” a “central ton” that, wearing a fine suit, ends up “bulging his pants.” He is a “caricature,” a “stupid clown” that touches someone “grossly.” Readers may be reminded of the famous line in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” in which the hero, back from his twenty years’ wandering about the Mediterranean, expresses his disgust with his subjects in Ithaca by calling them “a savage race/ That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me”—the ten monosyllables striking the note of disdain for the same kind of animalistic qualities and lack of consciousness and intellectual sophistication that characterize Schwartz’s bear.
The stress on the physical qualities of the bear and the subtle use of end-stopped lines combine to convince readers of the essentially materialistic nature of the body. Schwartz wants readers to understand that the body is different from the spiritual side of man but that there is no way for the spirit or consciousness to escape from its constant companion.
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