The Braided Dream

The Braided Dream: Robert Penn Warren's Late Poetry

Randolph Paul Runyon
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Braided Dream
    Book Description:

    Robert Penn Warren's reputation as a poet, though always considerable, has soared in the last decade, as indicated by his recent selection as America's first poet laureate.The Braided Dreamis one of the first book-length studies of the poetry that has led to Warren's recent rise to eminence and the first to consider his final collection,Altitudes and Extensions.

    In a communicable, jargon-free style that will appeal to the nonacademic reader as well as the serious scholar, Randolph Paul Runyon provides a detailed and illuminating guide to a body of poetry that, despite its greatness, has until now seemed resistant to full understanding.

    Every poem of Warren's last four sequences --Now and Then,Being Here,Rumor Verified, andAltitudes and Extensions-- is given a close reading, with a precise laying-out of words, phrases, and recurring images that not only enrich the texture of the poetry but are themselves the texture. Runyon demonstrates the relevance of Freud's concept of the dream work of the unconscious to a reading of this tightly interwoven poetry. He shows how Warren's poems assume additional meanings by the poet's very arrangement of them, deepening his thesis by arguing that "poems eat poems" as each reuses and reconceptualizes the imagery of its predecessor, frequently with ironic or parodic effect.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6425-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction. Buried Narrative and the Parody of Time
    (pp. 1-18)

    Robert Penn Warren, until his death on 15 September 1989, had been generally acknowledged to be this country’s greatest living poet. For Harold Bloom he was “our most eminent man of letters”; Peter Stitt found him “the most important American poet of the second half of the twentieth century, and one of the five most important of the entire century” (review ofNew and Selected Poems, 648). He twice received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, forPromisesandNow and Then, and the list of his other awards was extensive. The publication ofNew and Selected Poems: 1923-1985on the...

  4. ONE Altitudes and Extensions “Some Logic Here to Trace”
    (pp. 19-89)

    To begin at a beginning, what Robert Penn Warren says before he says anything else in the first line of his most recent poetic sequence—Altitudes and Extensions 1980-1984, the new collection that opens hisNew and Selected Poems: 1923-1985—is to issue what looks like a challenge to the reader to find the hidden logic of these poems: “There is some logic here to trace.…” Of course what immediately follows nearly cancels out the effect of that challenge, plunging us into the poem itself, in which it is the poet and not the reader who is trying to trace...

  5. TWO Rumor Verified “Caverned Enchainment”
    (pp. 90-127)

    Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980bears as its epigraph the last lines of Dante’sInferno, which ends, as doPurgatorioandParadiso, with a look at the stars.

    … io vidi delle cose belle

    Che porta il ciel, per un pertugio tondo,

    E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

    … I saw some of the beautiful things

    That heaven bears, through a round opening,

    And from there we emerged to see the stars again.

    Warren will similarly glimpse the stars through a narrow aperture in “It Is Not Dead” (82), the antepenultimate poem ofAltitudes and Extensions: “a curtain bars /...

  6. THREE Being Here “Life’s Long Sorites”
    (pp. 128-173)

    OfBeing Here: Poetry 1977-1980, Warren has warned us that if we read the poems in this collection without regard for the order in which they appear we will be missing something rather important: “The order of the poems is not the order of composition.… The order and selection are determined thematically, but with echoes, repetitions, and variations in feeling and tonality” (“Afterthought,” 107). Peter Stitt has made a start toward tracing the sequential movement of the book, arguing that the five divisions of the sequence move from childhood to youth to old age, with the central sections investigating “possibilities...

  7. FOUR Now and Then “In Its New Ectoplasmic Context”
    (pp. 174-208)

    Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978begins with a biblical epigraph—“Let the inhabitants of the rock sing” (Isaiah 42:11)—that, like the quotation from Dante inscribed at the beginning ofRumor Verified, finds its way into the first poem of the collection. It’s not the inhabitants that survive but the rock—in the form of the one that someone had thrown at a skull the poet and his boyhood friend K find in a marsh. The rock is “cracked in star-shape from a stone-smack.” Near the end of this poem (“American Portrait: Old Style” (3) another stone is thrown, the...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 209-226)

    Could this way of reading Warren continue indefinitely backward into his poetic oeuvre? Are all his collections sequences in the sense in which the four considered here are? It would be difficult to prove that they are not, and I have no interest in doing so, but it would be useful to point out that the earlier collections are generally organized along different lines, in ways that seem to preclude the discoveries the last four sequences make possible. For in the latter the poems are on a roughly equal footing, each—at first glance—an independent entity in an apparently...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 227-234)
  10. Appendix. The Order of Warren’s Poems
    (pp. 235-240)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 241-244)
  12. Index of Warren’s Works
    (pp. 245-250)
  13. General Index
    (pp. 251-252)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)