Delmore Schwartz and Walt Whitman

Topics: Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass Pages: 13 (4185 words) Published: March 18, 2013
Universidade de Brasília – UnB
Instituto de Letras – IL
Departamento de Teoria Literária e Literaturas
Literatura Norte-Americana 1 – Século XX
Professora Cíntia Schwantes

Leaves of Walt Whitman’s works on Delmore Schwartz’s grass: a contrastive analyses of two of their poems

Newton Vieira Lima Neto

May, 2011

This paper is aimed at investigating the influence of one of the most acclaimed American poets, Walt Whitman, in the works of Delmore Schwartz. Whereas the former lived in a century – the nineteenth – when America needed a new form of representation to cover its new ideals of freedom and independence as a nation and for its individuals, the latter experienced the ups and downs of the following century, having witnessed the Great Depression, the severe consequences of two World Wars as well as America emerging as a superpower with its culture expanding to the rest of the world. Since his lifetime, and much longer after it, Schwartz has been compared to Whitman, due to the similar form they used – the free verse – and their main attempt in capturing the American spirit. Aware of this frequent comparison, Schwartz wrote a poem – A Dream of Whitman Paraphrased, Recognized and Made More Vivid by Renoir – in which he proposes a dialogue with Whitman’s most famous poem Song of Myself. Therefore, our investigation departures from Schwartz’ acceptance of Whitman’s legacy in his poetry, and aims at making a contrastive analysis of these two poems. Through the close reading method, our intent is to present Schwartz’s concerns with his time and his America, which have made of him a very independent, original and relevant poet, despite having been overshadowed by greater names such as Whitman himself. The Americas of Whitman and Schwartz

Delmore Schwartz was born in 1913 in Brooklyn, NY, where he spent most of his life. His parents' painful divorce had a profound impact on him and in his future works. He attended renowned universities, such as Columbia, NYU and Harvard, having obtained a degree in Philosophy in 1935. He is mostly known for his short stories and essays. In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1937), his most famous short-story, the main character watches a movie in which he is able to see his parents' relationship from scratch and how their choices have affected the rest of their lives as well as of their children. This is one of the cases in which his autobiography has a major influence on his works. For many critics, through his short-stories Schwartz was also able to portrait the Jewish middle-classes in the context of the post Great Depression. Although Schwartz had his talent recognized in his lifetime, having received the Bollingen Prize, awarded for his Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems (1959), he is frequently remembered for other of his works. The reason why so little is known about his poetry in the present days might be explained by a series of overshadowing facts: firstly, there is and was a great fondness for Walt Whitman’s poetry and a resistance to those who have drunk in his fountain; secondly, the works of modernists such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and E.E. Cummings claimed for innovation and achieved a great and faithful audience; and last, but not least, Schwartz’s popularity among American readers seemed to have been restricted to his prose. Unlike his short-stories, his poetry seems to have given room to more philosophical themes. Making use of abstract verses, he invites us to a deep meditative nature mixed with the hectic and practical life of the modern self, especially in the big cities. In one of his most famous poems, In The Naked Bed, In Plato’s Cave, life happens outside the lyric-self’s bedroom:

And walked to the window. The stony street Displayed the stillness in which buildings stand,...
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