The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Like many other poems by Delmore Schwartz, this—the author’s most frequently anthologized piece—takes its title from its first line, which provides the work with an intriguing and memorable opening. This is matched by an equally powerful, if dispiriting, concluding statement. The poem is thus securely framed.

Structurally, the poem is made up of two compact blocks of text, each about fourteen lines long. Hence, one might regard it as a rhymeless double sonnet. It would be perhaps more accurate to say that each half of the poem behaves like a double octave and like a double sestet, as considerable tension and interaction is going on between the two parts.

Indeed, the first half can be seen to break further into two verse paragraphs in the middle of line eight. In this way, the author points out a slight departure from the main thrust of the preceding seven and a half lines. Similarly, in the poem’s very last line, a break occurs that marks off the concluding statement or capstone of the work. A more decisive turning point is indicated by the continuous break separating the two halves of the piece.

Although the poem is written in the first person, the speaker keeps himself in the background as much as possible. The poem’s chief concern is not so much to give an account of a unique personal experience as to focus on what binds humanity together. Thus the “I” in the first half of the poem is referred to as “son of...

(The entire section is 538 words.)