Monday, December 8, 2014

We Are Howling or Dancing Out Our Souls in Beating Syllables Before the Curtain, or: Born One Hundred One Years Ago Today


Delmore Schwartz

“the withness of the body”

The heavy bear who goes with me,   
A manifold honey to smear his face,   
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,   
The central ton of every place,   
The hungry beating brutish one   
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,   
Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,   
Climbs the building, kicks the football,   
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.

Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,   
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,   
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,   
A sweetness intimate as the water’s clasp,   
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope   
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.   
—The strutting show-off is terrified,   
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,   
Trembles to think that his quivering meat   
Must finally wince to nothing at all.

That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,   
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,   
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive,   
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,   
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,   
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,   
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,   
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed   
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,   
Amid the hundred million of his kind,   
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.


"I have been one acquainted with the night" - Robert Frost

Rode in the train all night, in the sick light. A bird
Flew parallel with a singular will. In daydream's moods and attitudes
The other passengers slumped, dozed, slept, read,
Waiting, and waiting for place to be displaced
On the exact track of safety or the rack of accident.

Looked out at the night, unable to distinguish
Lights in the towns of passage from the yellow lights
Numb on the ceiling. And the bird flew parallel and still
As the train shot forth the straight line of its whistle,
Forward on the taut tracks, piercing empty, familiar --

The bored center of this vision and condition looked and looked
Down through the slick pages of the magazine (seeking
The seen and the unseen) and his gaze fell down the well
Of the great darkness under the slick glitter,
And he was only one among eight million riders and readers.

And all the while under his empty smile the shaking drum
Of the long determined passage passed through him
By his body mimicked and echoed. And then the train
Like a suddenly storming rain, began to rush and thresh--
The silent or passive night, pressing and impressing
The patients' foreheads with a tightening-like image
Of the rushing engine proceeded by a shaft of light
Piercing the dark, changing and transforming the silence
Into a violence of foam, sound, smoke and succession.

A bored child went to get a cup of water,
And crushed the cup because the water too was
Boring and merely boredom's struggle.
The child, returning, looked over the shoulder
Of a man reading until he annoyed the shoulder.
A fat woman yawned and felt the liquid drops
Drip down the fleece of many dinners.

And the bird flew parallel and parallel flew
The black pencil lines of telephone posts, crucified,
At regular intervals, post after post
Of thrice crossed, blue-belled, anonymous trees.

And then the bird cried as if to all of us:

0 your life, your lonely life
What have you ever done with it,
And done with the great gift of consciousness?
What will you ever do with your life before death's knife
Provides the answer ultimate and appropriate?

As I for my part felt in my heart as one who falls,
Falls in a parachute, falls endlessly, and feel the vast
Draft of the abyss sucking him down and down,
An endlessly helplessly falling and appalled clown:

This is the way that night passes by, this
Is the overnight endless trip to the famous unfathomable abyss.


Dogs are Shakespearean, children are strangers.
Let Freud and Wordsworth discuss the child,
Angels and Platonists shall judge the dog,
The running dog, who paused, distending nostrils,
Then barked and wailed; the boy who pinched his sister,   
The little girl who sang the song from Twelfth Night,   
As if she understood the wind and rain,
The dog who moaned, hearing the violins in concert.   
—O I am sad when I see dogs or children!
For they are strangers, they are Shakespearean.

Tell us, Freud, can it be that lovely children   
Have merely ugly dreams of natural functions?   
And you, too, Wordsworth, are children truly   
Clouded with glory, learned in dark Nature?   
The dog in humble inquiry along the ground,   
The child who credits dreams and fears the dark,   
Know more and less than you: they know full well   
Nor dream nor childhood answer questions well:   
You too are strangers, children are Shakespearean.

Regard the child, regard the animal,   
Welcome strangers, but study daily things,   
Knowing that heaven and hell surround us,   
But this, this which we say before we’re sorry,   
This which we live behind our unseen faces,   
Is neither dream, nor childhood, neither   
Myth, nor landscape, final, nor finished,   
For we are incomplete and know no future,   
And we are howling or dancing out our souls   
In beating syllables before the curtain:   
We are Shakespearean, we are strangers.