Narcissus

By Delmore Schwartz 1913–1966 Delmore Schwartz
THE MIND IS AN ANCIENT AND FAMOUS CAPITAL

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 ...


THE FEAR AND DREAD OF THE MIND OF THE OTHERS

—The others were the despots of despair—

The river’s freshness sailed from unknown sources—

... They snickered giggled, laughed aloud at last,   
They mocked and marvelled at the statue which was   
A caricature, as strained and stiff, and yet   
A statue of self-love!—since self-love was
To them, truly my true love, how, then, was I a stillness of nervousness   
So nervous a caricature: did they suppose   
Self-love was unrequited, or betrayed?
They thought I had fallen in love with my own face,   
And this belief became the night-like obstacle   
To understanding all my unbroken suffering,   
My studious self-regard, the pain of hope,   
The torment of possibility:
How then could I have expected them to see me   
As I saw myself, within my gaze, or see
That being thus seemed as a toad, a frog, a wen, a mole.   
Knowing their certainty that I was only
A monument, a monster who had fallen in love   
With himself alone, how could I have
Told them what was in me, within my heart, trembling and passionate   
Within the labyrinth and caves of my mind, which is   
Like every mind partly or wholly hidden from itself?   
The words for what is in my heart and in my mind   
Do not exist. But I must seek and search to find   
Amid the vines and orchards of the vivid world of day   
Approximate images, imaginary parallels
For what is my heart and dark within my mind:   
Comparisons and mere metaphors: for all
Of them are substitutes, both counterfeit and vague:
They are, at most, deceptive resemblances,
False in their very likeness, like the sons
Who are alike and kin and more unlike and false
Because they seem the father’s very self: but each one is   
—Although begotten by the same forbears—himself,
The unique self, each one is unique, like every other one,   
And everything, older or younger, nevertheless
A passionate nonesuch who has before has been.
Do you hear, do you see? Do you understand me now, and how   
The words for what is my heart do not exist?


THE RIVER WAS THE EMBLEM OF ALL BEAUTY:   ALL

...
The river was the abundant belly of beauty itself   
The river was the dream space where I walked,
The river was itself and yet it was—flowing and freshening—
A self anew, another self, or self renewed
At every tick of eternity, and by each glint of light   
Mounting or sparkling, descending to shade and black   
—Had I but told them my heart, told how it was
Taunted at noon and pacified at dusk, at starfall midnight   
Strong in hope once more, ever in eagerness
Jumping like joy, would they have heard? How could they?
How, when what they knew was, like the grass,
Simple and certain, known through the truth of touch, another form and fountain of falsehood’s fecundity—
Gazing upon their faces as they gazed
Could they have seen my faces as whores who are   
Holy and deified as priestesses of hope
                         —the sacred virgins of futurity—
Promising dear divinity precisely because   
They were disfigured ducks who might become
And be, and ever beloved, white swans, noble and beautiful.
                                    Could they have seen how my faces were
Bonfires of worship and vigil, blazes of adoration and hope   
—Surely they would have laughed again, renewed their scorn,   
Giggled and snickered, cruel. Surely have said
This is the puerile mania of the obsessed,
The living logic of the lunatic:
I was the statue of their merriment,
Dead and a death, Pharoah and monster forsaken and lost.

...
My faces were my apes: my apes became   
Performers in the Sundays of their parks,   
Buffoons or clowns in the farce or comedy
When they took pleasure in knowing that they were not like me.

...
I waited like obsession in solitude:
The sun’s white terror tore and roared at me,   
The moonlight, almond white, at night,   
Whether awake or sleeping, arrested me   
And sang, softly, haunted, unlike the sun
But as the sun. Withheld from me or took away   
Despair or peace, making me once more
With thought of what had never been before——

Delmore Schwartz, “Narcissus” from Selected Poems (1938-1958): Summer Knowledge. Copyright © 1967 by Delmore Schwartz. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm.

Source: Selected Poems (1938-1958): Summer Knowledge (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1967)

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Poet Delmore Schwartz 1913–1966

Subjects Nature, The Body, Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Mythology & Folklore, The Mind

Poetic Terms Persona

 Delmore  Schwartz

Biography

Delmore Schwartz had, writes Alfred Kazin, "a feeling for literary honor, for the highest standards, that one can only call noble—he loved the nobility of example presented by the greatest writers of our century, and he wanted in this sense to be noble himself, a light unto the less talented.... So he suffered, unceasingly, because he had often to disappoint himself—because the world turned steadily more irrational and . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, The Body, Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Mythology & Folklore, The Mind

Poetic Terms Persona

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