Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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poem, but my memory of it is that it shares the frustrations,
difficulties and inadequacies of
Schwartz’s prose (even his most famous story
In Dreams
Begin Responsibilities)
has always seemed to me even less
satisfactory than his poetry. What survive a number of critical
readings most successfully are phrases and fragments of his
lyric poems, the best known of which is one of his earliest,
beginning with the line
In the naked bed, in Plato’s cave . . .
Passages of this and other poems have embedded themselves in
my memory and seem an enduring acquisition of a rare kind
of beauty. It is this loveliness which, in the final analysis, has
kept him from being forgotten. Even fragmentary suggestions of
beauty may survive their creator indefinitely. It must be granted
that all his works suffer at some points from murkiness and fail
to cohere in the way that masterpieces do, but they will bear
rereading and reevaluation such as they are now receiving and
may again receive in the future. The reader who does not know
his work (except perhaps for some selections in the anthologies)
could do worse then read him and judge for himself.
Karl Shapiro is sixty-five years old this year and his publisher
is bringing out a volume of his
Collected Poems
to mark this
occasion. Unlike Schwartz, Shapiro has expressed some pride in
his Jewishness (instead of struggling with it ignominiously, like
a monster in the dark.) He called one of his volumes
of a Jew.
And in December 1975, at a meeting of The Modern
Language Association in San Francisco, he chose to recall the
origin of one of his own poems:
On May 14, 1948, the founding of the modern state of Israel
was proclaimed. A vast mass meeting was held in Baltimore
[Shapiro’s native city], for which I was commissioned to write
a poem. I wrote a poem called ,Israel,’ which was short and to
the point but which also expressed a duality of allegiance,
spiritual or psychological, if not political. Later
The New Yorker
published this poem and subsequently I included it in the collec-
tions of my poetry. What I wrote in that poem twenty-seven years
ago I would write again today with no alterations . . .