robert-penn-warren

He sways high against the blue sky,
While in the bright intricacies
Of wind, his mind, like a leaf,
Turns. In the sun, it glitters.
—  Robert Penn Warren, from section V. “Paul Valéry Stood on the Cliff And Confronted the Furious Energies of Nature,” in “Island of Summer,” Incarnations: Poems 1966-1968 (Random House, 1968)
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”
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
I lifted eyes. Stared west. The
Sun, rim down now, flamed to the un-
winged, utmost, blank zenith of sky.
I stared till flame color, blood col-
or, faded to dusking color-
lessness, and the first star, westward
And high, spoke. Then, slowly, night.
—  Robert Penn Warren, from “Part of What Might Have Been a Short Story, Almost Forgotten”
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)

EVENING HAWK

From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak’s black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.
His wing
Scythes down another day, his motion
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.

Look!Look!he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
Into shadow.

Long now,
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics.His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense.The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.                        

Robert Penn Warren, who died September 15, 1989.

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

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)