Mark Ford at the Times Literary Supplement:
The legendary status accorded Delmore Schwartz in the decade after his miserable death from a heart attack in 1966 in a fleapit hotel in midtown Manhattan was only in part a response to his own writing. Perhaps America’s most genuine claimant to the title of poète maudit, Schwartz was unforgettably commemorated by John Berryman in a section of Dream Songs (1969), by Robert Lowell in a poignant elegy (“your name, Schwartz, / one vowel bedevilled by seven consonants”), and then by Saul Bellow, who modelled the gifted but increasingly deranged Humboldt ofHumboldt’s Gift (1975) on his friend. The novel first celebrates Schwartz/Humboldt’s dazzling debut as a poet, then sorrowfully tracks his perverse and wayward behaviour and eventual descent into paranoia. (It was Schwartz, incidentally, who coined the aphorism: “Even paranoids have real enemies”.) James Atlas’s biography of Schwartz, published two years after Humboldt’s Gift, revealed in unsparing detail the extent to which the doomed career of Bellow’s charismatic but troubled poet was based on aspects of Schwartz’s life.
Like Bellow, both Lowell and Berryman emphasize the precipitous decline in the quality of Schwartz’s poetry after the enormous success of his first volume, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938); the immensely well-read Schwartz borrowed the title from W. B. Yeats). “Your dream had humor”, Lowell reflected; “then its genius thickened, / you grew thick and helpless, your lines were variants.” Henry, the narrator of Berryman’s Dream Songs, agrees: “I’d bleed to say his lovely work improved / but it did not so”. In the face of such assertions one hesitates to put the case for Schwartz’s poetry of the 1950s and 60s.