Why did Delmore Schwartz linger in cultural memory, even as his poetry was more and more overlooked? This essay argues that it is Schwartz's Jewishness that marked him a celebrity of his literary generation, and that his poetry had little, if anything, to do with it. Rather, Schwartz's cultural identity branded him. Schwartz's vast influence among his peers arises from his unique social position: the poet at midcentury nurtured on the values of New Criticism in conflict with the emerging tastes of postwar audiences; in addition: the Jewish American, largely second-generation, determined to embrace a national identity and detach himself from religion and ethnic practices and affiliations of earlier generations. The uncertainties, ambiguities and disorienting evolutions in each of these subject positions leave both poets and Jews searching for a comfortable perch. The impact of these changes on Schwartz, who was both, would have devastating effects; and it is in the shadow of that devastation that we find his lasting cultural legacy. In order to understand Schwartz's continuing resonance, then, we have to examine how two identities—poet and Jew—collide and concatenate in the culture of the fifties, and become paradigmatic of the irreconcilable forces that lie at the center of the American artist's experience at midcentury.

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