The Heavy Bear

My sermon last Sunday at Throop Unitarian Universalist Church was about pleasure, indulgence, guilt, and body acceptance, among other things. (You can read it here.)

When I was writing the sermon, I had a particular poem in the back of my mind: Delmore Schwartz’s “The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me.” I had initially thought that we would use that poem for the reading during the service, but instead we had a “story for all ages”: a dramatic enactment of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I do like Schwartz’s poem, though, and I think it sheds additional light on the themes of the sermon — and perhaps the sermon reflects some light back on the poem. So here it is, reproduced with permission from the copyright owner:


The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me

“the withness of the body”

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.

— Delmore Schwartz


“The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me” by Delmore Schwartz, from Selected Poems, copyright ©1959 by Delmore Schwartz. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Image credit: Scott Webb, posted on unsplash.com under the Creative Commons Zero license. Original here.

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