On Sunday, when a reader sent a link to Delmore Schwartz’s “Father and Son,” he didn’t know I was taking my middle son back to his boarding school in Ontario today. If anyone still reads Schwartz, it’s likely through the filter of Bellow or Berryman. My late friend D.G. Myers once hooted with glee when I quoted from memory the opening lines of “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me,” and Nabokov claimed to hear “divine vibrations” in Schwartz’s story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.”
Schwartz’s madness, drug and alcohol abuse, and solitary death are better known than his work, some of which is good. The reasons for this are many, including reader morbidity, but Schwartz bears some responsibility. Take “Father and Son,” a poem steeped in a rancid Freudian marinade, and poetically in thrall to Auden and perhaps MacNeice. In other words, it is very much an artifact of its time, dated by being in lockstep with fashionable thinking. Despite this, “Father and Son” contains some good lines, especially timely with my fifteen-year-old’s return to St. Andrew’s College for another year. I could speak the father’s opening word:
“On these occasions, the feelings surprise,
Spontaneous as rain, and they compel
Explicitness, embarrassed eyes——"
The father misreads Hamlet à la Freud and Ernest Jones, but I hope my son someday might be able to say:
“Father, you’re not Polonius, you’re reticent,
But sure. I can already tell
The unction and falsetto of the sentiment
Which gratifies the facile mouth, but springs
From no felt, had, and wholly known things.”
The only character in the play I would want to be even less than Polonius is Hamlet, the terminally arrested adolescent. Oh, I almost forgot Ophelia.
[Another poem on my mind today: ”At the San Francisco Airport.”]