Saturday, April 19, 2008


A friend of mine from "Library Thing" just sent this poem to me by e-mail. He said it reminded him of me. I presume this is because I had been discussing D. H. Lawrence's essay "Etruscan Places" on LT.

Strange. I'd just digested the Frost poem about depression and now, from cyberspace, from someone I've never actually met, comes this wonderful poem about the mind...

I'd never before read this poem by Delmore Schwartz. But I'm struck by how this poem relates to Frost's "Desert Places." The mind can truly be a "ruined and eternal" place, ruined in the sense of the ravages the mind must endure, eternal in the sense of the continuity of humans within civilizations throughout time.

We come from darkness "dusk" and are to dusk returning ("Snow falling and night falling fast oh fast" --Frost). Schwartz also comments on the "dread terror of the uncontrollable."

That we cannot control our lives is a hard fact for humans to face. Realizing this fact, we can be suffocated by the "dread terror" or we can learn to let go of our semblance of control.

Mental illness, which Schwartz had (and Frost, too) is so often experienced as a "dread terror." I think Schwartz captures the terrors of the mind very effectively in this poem.

The Mind Is an Ancient
and Famous Capital
By Delmore Schwartz

The mind is a city like London,
Smoky and populous: it is a capital
Like Rome, ruined and eternal,
Marked by the monuments which no one
Now remembers. For the mind, like Rome, contains
Catacombs, aqueducts, amphitheatres, palaces,
Churches and equestrian statues, fallen, broken or soiled.
The mind possesses and is possessed by all the ruins
Of every haunted, hunted generation's celebration.

"Call us what you will: we are made such by love."
We are such studs as dreams are made on, and
Our little lives are ruled by the gods, by Pan,
Piping of all, seeking to grasp or grasping
All of the grapes; and by the bow-and-arrow god,
Cupid, piercing the heart through, suddenly and forever.

Dusk we are, to dusk returning, after the burbing,
After the gold fall, the fallen ash, the bronze,
Scattered and rotten, after the white null statues which
Are winter, sleep, and nothingness: when
Will the houselights of the universe
Light up and blaze?
For it is not the sea
Which murmurs in a shell,
And it is not only heart, at harp o'clock,
It is the dread terror of the uncontrollable
Horses of the apocalypse, running in wild dread
Toward Arcturus—and returning as suddenly…

1 comment:

emmapeelDallas said...

No one reads Schwartz anymore, and he's so good...I'm happy to see him here (and this one is new to me).

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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

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