At first glance, the two most interesting American poet-critics of mid-century don’t appear to have much in common. Delmore Schwartz, the New York Jewish intellectual, was turbulent, mad, brilliant, a destroyer of hotel rooms and imaginer of conspiracies. In his early poems he crossed Eliotic intellectuality with Yeatsian music and came up with a unique hybrid—an exuberant, fatalistic, teleologically compelling type of modernist poem that could be “about” anything from Orpheus to Caesar to the Romanovs’ bounding ball; in his later years he dropped Eliot, found Whitman, and produced a series of bizarre, energetic, mesmeric post-Walt effusions about Seurat and Psyche and Marilyn Monroe. Randall Jarrell—to a casual observer—was quite a different sort. Serene, seemingly stable, far more comfortable in a sleepy Southern town than in a crude, dirty Northern city (“What a way to...


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