The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 520 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

(The entire section is 455 words.)