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This poem is a stream-of-conscious monologue, with the narrator resting in a park and thinking about, and talking to, an unnamed person, who is certainly Delmore Schwartz. It’s an interesting poem, not syntactically complicated. It’s in three parts. The first is a question: Were you good to him, even though he wasn’t good to you? B. knows his dead friend couldn’t have been good to him, of course, because toward the end Schwartz was suffering from severe mental illness. The second section is an observation of a beautiful day in the park, with his daughter playing in the grass. But there is this: “That dreadful small-hours hotel death mars all.” It may be a lovely day in a city park in Dublin, but his friend died alone and paranoid in a cheap hotel in New York City. The speaker is in such a self-doubting frame of mind that guilty thoughts step in and wreck a beautiful day. The speaker asks himself a question at the end, about Schwartz. The question is left unanswered:
Did you leave him all alone,
to that end? or did he leave you, to seek
frailty & tremor, obsessed, mad & weak?
That’s all. It’s not complicated. Who left who? But it’s a good articulation of the kind of regret that grief and grief’s lingering aftermath can trigger: I could live with this if I knew I had done everything I could. If I had been as good a friend/father/son/spouse as I could be. The fact that the speaker, the griever, is even asking this question in the first place actually implies its answer. No. I didn’t do enough. I could have done more.
It’s probably not a fair question to lay on oneself. But humans will sometimes beat themselves up over things they don’t deserve. Sometimes when I’m tired and in a bad mood, I’ll make some outrage up and then go ahead and get really mad about it, until I stop and say to myself, Dude! You’re making it up! Sometimes I look back on some mean thing I did when I was thirteen and feel terrible about it. Sometimes I think of something I wanted to do, like smack somebody upside his head with a tennis racket, and which I didn’t do, but just having wanted to do it makes me feel guilty. I just don’t write about these things. But everybody does this stuff. If you let it get a grip, it has the potential to wreck your day. I get past it either by doing something or saying something nice to someone, or just by turning to work. Which is what B. is doing here himself. His work is to capture these moments and give them form. But I also wonder if he didn’t cultivate these kinds of self-castigating moments, like spreading manure in a garden. It stinks, but you end up with all these great tomatoes, some zinnias and coneflowers, and way too damn much zucchini.