robert-penn-warren

I stare skyward at uncountable years beyond
My own little aura of pale-green light—
The complex of stars is steady in its operation.
Smell of salt sedge drifts in from seaward,
And I think of swimming, naked and seaward,
In starlight forever.

Robert Penn Warren, closing lines to “Late Night Train,” New and Selected Poems 1923-1985 (Random House, 1985)

Far beyond the fields, the woods appeared, a depthless misty smudge no less remote than the sky which sagged gray and soundless like a damp drumhead. One could walk beneath the black boughs out yonder with no noise ever given from the tread of foot on the sopping mat of leaves.
—  Robert Penn Warren, “Testament of Flood”

Robert Penn Warren (April 24, 1905 – September 15, 1989) 

American poet, novelist, and literary critic and was one of the founders of New Criticism. He was also a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He founded the influential literary journal The Southern Review with Cleanth Brooks in 1935. He received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel for his novel All the King’s Men (1946) and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 and 1979. He is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. (Wikipedia)

From our stacks: Dust jackets from All the King’s Men By Robert Penn Warren. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946 and World Enough and Time. A Romantic Novel. Robert Penn Warren. New York: Random House, 1950.

She wanted to please people, trying to laugh with them and act as they did, but generally, even after the parties where she had enjoyed herself most, she felt more cut off from other people than before. She felt that all of them possessed a secret which would never be hers.
—  Robert Penn Warren, “The Love of Elsie Barton”
How does poetry come into all this? By being an antidote, a sovereign antidote, for passivity. For the basic fact about poetry is that it demands participation, from the secret physical echo in muscle and nerve that identifies us with the medium, to the imaginative enactment that stirs the deepest recesses where life-will and values reside. Beyond that, it nourishes our life-will in the process of testing our values. And this is not to be taken as implying a utilitarian aesthetic. It is, rather, one way of describing our pleasure in poetry as an adventure in the celebration of life.
—  Robert Penn Warren, Democracy and Poetry
And the essence of absurdity, too, for the self is never to be found, but must be created

In the phrase [“to find myself”] lurks the idea that the self is a pre-existing entity, a self like a Platonic idea existing in a mystic realm beyond time and change. No, rather an object like a nugget of gold in the placer pan, the Eater egg under the bush at an Easter-egg hunt, a four-leaf clover to promise miraculous luck. Here is the essence of passivity, one’s quintessential luck. And the essence of absurdity, too, for the self is never to be found, but must be created, not the happy accident of passivity, but the product of a thousand actions, large and small, conscious or unconscious, performed not “away from it all,” but in the face of “it all,” for better or for worse, in work and leisure rather than in free time. 

~ Robert Penn Warren, Democracy and Poetry (Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition, January 1, 1975)

In the phrase [“to find myself”] lurks the idea that the self is a pre-existing entity, a self like a Platonic idea existing in a mystic realm beyond time and change. No, rather an object like a nugget of gold in the placer pan, the Easter egg under the bush at an Easter-egg hunt, a four-leaf clover to promise miraculous luck. Here is the essence of passivity, one’s quintessential luck. And the essence of absurdity, too, for the self is never to be found, but must be created, not the happy accident of passivity, but the product of a thousand actions, large and small, conscious or unconscious, performed not “away from it all,” but in the face of “it all,” for better or for worse, in work and leisure rather than in free time.
—  Robert Penn Warren, Democracy and Poetry
The self is never to be found, but must be created, not the happy accident of passivity, but the product of a thousand actions, large and small, conscious or unconscious, performed not “away from it all,” but in the face of “it all,” for better or for worse, in work and leisure rather than in free time.
—  Democracy and Poetry, Robert Penn Warren

A boy who, drunk with the perfume of elder blossoms
And the massivenss of moonrise, stood
In a lone lane, […]
In a rage of joy, to seize, and squeeze, significance from,
What life is, whatever it is.

Robert Penn Warren, from “Rumor at Twilight,” Altitudes and Extensions: 1980-1984 in New and Selected Poems 1923-1985 (Random House,1985)