Schwartz, angel and demon of American poetry

In one passage, Saul Bellow writes that “he was impossibly beautiful.” And then he writes, referring to the words of Von Humboldt Fleisher, ie Delmore Schwartz, “And finally remember, we are not natural beings, we are supernatural beings.” Born in 1913 in Brooklyn to Romanian Jews, raised mostly orphaned parents divorced, dad who dies when he is a boy, a small inheritance that allows him to attend New York University Delmore Schwartz looked like an angel. He was beautiful, supernatural, impossible. He seemed to come from one of the apocryphal scrolls of the First Testament, the Book of Watchers, that is, swarming with wonderful and cruel angels, looking like vampires. At the edge of the world, it is said, there are the disturbing prisons of the rebel angels. Delmore Schwartz bore the stigma of the angel: the incredible ascent; the fall, deadly; the face, dazzling. Prone to sensational tenderness «Let’s try to be informed about the authentic enigmatic divinities», he attacks in a poem dedicated to Love and Marilyn Monroe could not be loved: all that Delmore touches this is the charisma, the sentence perishes, dies. Yet, whoever passes through Delmore, who feeds on his flesh, rises again, becomes a genius.

To repay him, Saul Bellow wrote a novel, The Gift of Humboldt, dedicated to the glory years of Delmore Schwartz, «avant-garde writer … handsome, blond, burly, serious and witty, cultured. In short, he had everything. ” The novel allowed him the Pulitzer, in 1976. Delmore Schwartz had died ten years earlier, in the summer, at the Columbia Hotel. He wandered from hotel to hotel. Reprobate and recluse. Alienated angel. Apparently he destroyed the room first. He was 52 years old. Lou Reed, another pardoned by Delmore’s angelic and schismatic genius, in a 2012 memoir, O Delmore How I Miss You, remembers him in his later years. He was his teacher at Syracuse University. “You were too good to survive. The inspirations have stolen you. Expectations. Fame … I idolized your wits and knowledge, huge. You are and will always be the only one ». For three days, no one has claimed the body of Delmore Schwartz, the rebel angel of American poetry. There is something Christlike about this. The filthy room of the Columbia Hotel like the empty tomb. Three days were not enough for Delmore to rise again.

Still, Saul Bellow is right. Delmore Schwartz had it all. In 1938 he published In Dreams Begin Responsibilities: everyone likes the collection of short stories published in Italy by Neri Pozza. Thomas S. Eliot, his favorite poet, supreme cardinal of modernity, is fascinated by it, he writes. According to Vladimir Nabokov, whose cruel wit is known, the story that gives the book its title is one of the most beautiful in American literature, along with “half a dozen others.” But Delmore, for the most part, first of all, is a poet. His poetry is dizzying and unsettling, electrified by a ruthless, very rigorous talent, which he annihilates by authority. “I am a poet of the (urban) kindergarten / and of the (metropolitan) cemetery / Of ecstasy and ragtime and also of the city hidden in the heart and in the mind”, he writes in America, America !, sacrificial poem, heralded as a title for Delmore Schwartz’s first lyric anthology published in this poetically constipated country, hurray, hurray (it took a small, audacious publisher from the Marche region, from Senigallia, Ventura edizioni, pp. 262, euro 15; the translation is by Angelo Guida). Delmore Schwartz’s poem mitigates Walt Whitman’s enthusiasm which can be seen, for example, in Seurat’s long poem Sunday Afternoon Along the Seine: «What do they contemplate? The river? / The sun that illuminates the river, the summer, the idleness, / Or the opulence and the nothingness of conscience? ” in baroque barometers, she alternates piss and enchantment («Oh Love, obscure animal, / Your oddities make you look / An eccentric or a clown: / Comfort the child in her / Because she is alone»). Like the counterfeit angel, tarred with pain, Delmore Schwartz dissects civilization «At the age of four, nature is impervious, / Enigmatic and mysterious. Even // A city child understands it, listening to the subway / Muttering underground … “, takes the man by the hand, whose source of tears he knows, takes him on an” interminable nocturnal journey towards the well-known unfathomable abyss ” (All night long).

Delmore Schwartz’s fathers are William Blake, Friedrich Hölderlin and the book of Job; at the Beinecke Library, in Yale, you can browse, even digitally, his annotated copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, a work of adamantine dedication. “Sovereign and king of all poets”: so Delmore Schwartz wrote of James Joyce. He had a childish handwriting, like an imperishable boy, he wrote in block letters: he tormented the texts of corrections.

Charles Bukowski admired him, pissed off, “really, he was a whore more than a bard / his poetry, so sweet and delicate.” Delmore Schwartz belongs to the noblest lineage of American poetry, and therefore neglected, he is on the side of the visionaries, the Hart Cranes, the Allen Tates, the Robert Penn Warren, the Robinson Jeffers. Stubborn and hostile poets, who with language have built a world, an epic, an era, to which we must conform without confirmation, demand obedience.

By the time he got the Bollingen, in 1959 the youngest poet ever awarded that award had already burned two marriages, squeezing into the turmoil of depression. Ten years earlier, Bollingen had gone to Ezra Pound, with whom Delmore had been having a furious exchange of letters for some time. They argued about the importance of Thomas Aquinas in the Divine Comedy. In 1938, on Poetry, Delmore Schwartz had written a long study on the Cantos, entitled Ezra Pound’s Very Useful Labors: he recognized its fundamental importance, the foundation of a new, contemptuous poem; he preferred WH Auden and Eliot. “I find your remarks about the Semites, or about the Jewish race, harmful … I resign from your most faithful admirers and scholars,” he wrote him, the following year.

Some poems are memorable and crazy. The best known one that Lou Reed likes best is called The cumbersome bear that walks with me and begins like this: “A variegated honey smears the muzzle / Of the bulky, clumsy and clumsy bear / That follows me everywhere”. In a 1951 essay, The Vocation of the Poet in the Modern World, Delmore writes that “in poetry, many are called and few are chosen.” What does it mean? That many write poetry and few, very few are poets. According to Delmore Schwartz, one of the characteristics of the person elected to poetry is “renunciation”: in order not to lose one’s vocation, one must give up everything. Above all, give up on yourself. Loss, perdition, dispossession are the criteria that found the poet’s charisma; “Neither forgiveness nor grace are bestowed on poetry, poets, poems,” writes Delmore Schwartz in The Poet.

Obviously, the poet died alone and forgotten, embarked on his own shameful misery. They treated him like a drunk, an unusual insolent: after all, what sense does a poet have in the world of atrocious machines? “As for me, I felt like one who falls, / … who falls relentlessly and feels the immense / Current of the abyss dragging him further and further down, / A shocked and helpless clown caught in an incessant fall”, he writes he. Paul Celan sang the power of the “sixteenth psalm”, which “sends a glow around / to the right corner of your mouth.” Who knows what psalm Delmore Schwartz drooled while he was dying, because you understand the poet there, at the point where he dies; he who knows if the angels have wreaked havoc on his corpse, just before or after. At the origin of every great poem is the poet’s dead body: readers have to polish it with oil, purify it with hyssop.

Schwartz, angel and demon of American poetry