The Ballad of the Children of the Czar

This old thing is my favourite poem by Delmore Schwartz, and in my top 100 favourite poems. This one is copied from the Poetry Foundation site, citation at the bottom.There may be many good pictures of Schwartz but I haven’t found them. These are from A blog by Padraig Colman.Lou Reed took a course from Schwartz in the 1960s and considered they were both poets from Brooklyn. I admire them.

The Ballad of the Children of the Czar

The children of the Czar
Played with a bouncing ball.
In the May morning, in the Czar’s garden,  
Tossing it back and forth.
It fell among the flowerbeds   
Or fled to the north gate.
A daylight moon hung up
In the Western sky, bald white.
Like Papa’s face, said Sister,   
Hurling the white ball forth.
While I ate a baked potato   
Six thousand miles apart,
In Brooklyn, in 1916,   
Aged two, irrational.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt   
Was an Arrow Collar ad.
O Nicholas! Alas! Alas!
My grandfather coughed in your army,
Hid in a wine-stinking barrel,   
For three days in Bucharest
Then left for America
To become a king himself.
I am my father’s father,
You are your children’s guilt.
In history’s pity and terror   
The child is Aeneas again;
Troy is in the nursery,
The rocking horse is on fire.
Child labor! The child must carry   
His fathers on his back.
But seeing that so much is past   
And that history has no ruth
For the individual,
Who drinks tea, who catches cold,
Let anger be general:
I hate an abstract thing.
Brother and sister bounced   
The bounding, unbroken ball,
The shattering sun fell down   
Like swords upon their play,
Moving eastward among the stars   
Toward February and October.
But the Maywind brushed their cheeks   
Like a mother watching sleep,
And if for a moment they fight   
Over the bouncing ball
And sister pinches brother   
And brother kicks her shins,
Well! The heart of man is known:   
It is a cactus bloom.
The ground on which the ball bounces   
Is another bouncing ball.
The wheeling, whirling world   
Makes no will glad.
Spinning in its spotlight darkness,   
It is too big for their hands.
A pitiless, purposeless Thing,   
Arbitrary and unspent,
Made for no play, for no children,   
But chasing only itself.
The innocent are overtaken,   
They are not innocent.
They are their father’s fathers,
The past is inevitable.
Now, in another October   
Of this tragic star,
I see my second year,   
I eat my baked potato.
It is my buttered world,
But, poked by my unlearned hand,
It falls from the highchair down   
And I begin to howl.
And I see the ball roll under   
The iron gate which is locked.
Sister is screaming, brother is howling,   
The ball has evaded their will.
Even a bouncing ball   
Is uncontrollable,
And is under the garden wall.   
I am overtaken by terror
Thinking of my father’s fathers,   
And of my own will.
Delmore Schwartz, “The Ballad of the Children of the Czar” from Selected Poems (1938-1958): Summer Knowledge. Copyright © 1967 by Delmore Schwartz. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation,
Source: Selected Poems (1938-1958): Summer Knowledge (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1967)
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  1. Posted October 17, 2020 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Happy to get your stuff.
    Would never have heard of Delmore Schwartz


    • Posted October 18, 2020 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Helma. I’ve asked permission to read one of Atwood’s poems from Power Politics suitabe for these times.

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