The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me
By Delmore Schwartz
“the withness of the body” 1
The heavy bear who goes with me,
A manifold honey to smear his face,
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,
The central ton of every place,
The hungry beating brutish one
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,
Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,
Climbs the building, kicks the football,
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.
Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,
A sweetness intimate as the water’s clasp,
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.
—The strutting show-off is terrified,
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,
Trembles to think that his quivering meat
Must finally wince to nothing at all.
That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive,
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,
Amid the hundred million of his kind,
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.
1. Schwartz’s epigraph is a reference is to the unity of mind and body in the work of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. See this excerpt from “Process and Feeling” by Jeremy W. Hayward:
Process philosophy was first proposed by that great English gentleman, mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, fifty years ago. Whitehead takes great care to show process philosophy to be a natural outcome of the Western tradition and to provide solutions to many of the seemingly intractable problems that had arisen in that tradition. It arises as a criticism of Berkeley, Hume, Locke, and Descartes, especially, but goes all the way back to find its roots in Plato and Aristotle. Whitehead himself is regarded by many as the greatest Western philosopher since Plato.
…Whitehead then points to a more primitive, and more fundamental, mode of perception at the level of feeling, which he calls “causal efficacy.” We can begin to understand causal efficacy when we acknowledge the mind-body unity and the “withness” of the body in all experience. We experience with the body. We do not merely see “red”; we see “red” with the eyes, we hear a sound with the ears, and so on. Whitehead points out that it is this “withness” that makes the body the starting point for our knowledge of our world. Therefore, the “withness of the body,” rather than be dismissed as irrelevant, must form the foundation of our theory of experience as perception.