Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Saul Bellow and a Delmore Schwartz story.

Saul Bellow died on Tuesday, another major loss during a week of the passing of popes and princes.

One of my favorite Bellow novels is "Humboldt's Gift," a fictionalized account of Bellow's relationship with poet Delmore Schwartz, "Von Humboldt Fleisher" in the book. I think I may have been assigned to read "Gift" while a senior in high school. In any case, the book introduced me to Schwartz, and for a brief period I became obsessed with both the man and his works.

Many years later, the obsession burned out but the embers still flickering, I was visiting the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge, a hole-in-the-wall that has my vote as the best poetry book store in the world, and was amused to see a bumper sticker reading "I Brake for Delmore Schwartz," a promotion for a small press book by Richard Grayson.

I bought the sticker and subsequently put it on the rear bumper of the vehicle I was driving at the time, a Chevy pick-up truck. Periodically, I'd get comments on the bumper sticker, mostly either questions about Schwartz, or jokes about that only Fred would have such a bumper sticker -- which was probably true. I never saw another one.

I was driving home from Digital one evening, pulled into our driveway, and saw in the rear-view mirror that another, ramshackle pickup had parked right behind me. A man in his late 50s or early 60s who looked as weathered as his truck jumped out and hustled up to me.

"You know I've been following you all the way from Nashua?" he said.

Nashua was about 20 miles back. Had I cut him off or otherwise pissed him off with my driving so much he had chased me home? "Okay..." I said warily. "How come?"

"Where you'd get that bumper sticker?" he asked and I told him the Grolier's story. "I was a pretty good friend of Delmore's," he said. "Or drinking buddies, at least, I guess. Anyway, I think about him a lot. I miss him. I thought maybe you were a friend of his too. But you're too young."

I was probably in my mid-40s at the time. "Well, he's one of my favorite poets," I said. "It's why I bought the sticker."

"Nobody remembers him anymore," the guy said sadly.

"I do," I said, but I don't think he heard me. He walked back to his truck and drove off.

I never even got his name.

Below is one of my favorites from Schwartz...

I Am a Book I Neither Wrote nor Read

I am a book I neither wrote nor read,
A comic, tragic play in which new masquerades
Astonishing as guns crackle like raids
Newly each time, whatever one is prepared
To come upon, suddenly dismayed and afraid,
As in the dreams which make the fear of sleep
The terror of love, the depth one cannot leap.

How the false truths of the years of youth have passed!
Have passed at full speed like trains which never stopped
There where I stood and waited, hardly aware,
How little I knew, or which of them was the one
To mount and ride to hope or where true hope arrives.

I no more wrote than read that book which is
The self I am, half hidden as it is
From one and all who see within a kiss
The lounging formless blackness of an abyss.

How could I think the brief years were enough
To prove the reality of endless love? -- Delmore Schwartz

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, buddy. I effing love Delmore Schwartz--have for as long as I can remember. Thanks! :-)!