by Delmore Schwartz
The riches of the poet are equal to his poetry
His power is his left hand
It is idle weak and precious
His poverty is his wealth, a wealth which may destroy him
like Midas Because it is that laziness which is a form of impatience
And this he may be destroyed by the gold of the light
which never was
On land or sea.
He may be drunken to death, draining the casks of excess
That extreme form of success.
He may suffer Narcissus' destiny
Unable to live except with the image which is infatuation
Love, blind, adoring, overflowing
Unable to respond to anything which does not bring love
quickly or immediately.
...The poet must be innocent and ignorant
But he cannot be innocent since stupidity is not his strong
Therefore Cocteau said, "What would I not give
To have the poems of my youth withdrawn from
I would give to Satan my immortal soul."
This metaphor is wrong, for it is his immortal soul which
he wished to redeem,
Lifting it and sifting it, free and white, from the actuality of
youth's banality, vulgarity,
pomp and affectation of his early
works of poetry.
So too in the same way a Famous American Poet
When fame at last had come to him sought out the fifty copies
of his first book of poems which had been privately printed
by himself at his own expense.
He succeeded in securing 48 of the 50 copies, burned them
And learned then how the last copies were extant,
As the law of the land required, stashed away in the national capital,
at the Library of Congress.
Therefore he went to Washington, therefore he took out the last two
Placed them in his pocket, planned to depart
Only to be halted and apprehended. Since he was the author,
Since they were his books and his property he was reproached
But forgiven. But the two copies were taken away from him
Thus setting a national precedent.
For neither amnesty nor forgiveness is bestowed upon poets, poetry and poems,
For William James, the lovable genius of Harvard
spoke the terrifying truth: "Your friends may forget, God
may forgive you, But the brain cells record
your acts for the rest of eternity."
What a terrifying thing to say!
This is the endless doom, without remedy, of poetry.
This is also the joy everlasting of poetry.
Last updated May 02, 2015