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The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren

The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren

Victor H. Strandberg
Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren
    Book Description:

    Though it has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize, the poetry of Robert Penn Warren still is not widely or well understood. In this study, Victor H. Strandberg redresses this imbalance by providing a comprehensive survey of the poetic canon of this gifted, complex, and much-neglected poet.

    Warren writes in the tradition of Western poets concerned with the painful experience of a forced, one-way passage from innocence into "the world's stew" of time and loss. This passage, Strandberg explains, results for Warren in bifurcation of the self into warring segments: a "clean" idealistic surface ego, and a polluted "undiscovered self" in the unconscious. Revelation of the "dirty" part of human personality is tellingly evoked in many of Warren's major works. As the poet's vision expands, however, these conflicting elements are unified in a "mystic osmosis of being" whereby "the world which once provoked... fear and disgust may now be totally loved."

    In addition to close analysis both of individual poems and of the poet's overall development, Strandberg reviews critical opinion of Warren's poetry over the last three decades and assesses his place among fellow poets. Both as "prophecy" and as "art," he concludes, Robert Penn Warren's poetry is so significant, versatile, and excellent "as to rank him among the finest and most fertile talents of his age."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6448-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Critical Reckoning
    (pp. 1-20)

    Criticism of the poetry of Robert Penn Warren falls into three chronological phases roughly corresponding to three periods of creativity in his career. Phase one covers the three volumes represented inSelected Poems,1923–1943, which evoked a cacophony of critical voices that continued to echo into the late 1940s. Phase two embraces the three volumes written in the 1950s, after Warren had been publishing exclusively in prose for nearly ten years. The first two of these volumes,Brother to DragonsandPromises, engendered a sufficiently large and favorable response to represent the high-water mark of Warren’s popularity as a...

  5. 1 The Themes of Robert Penn Warren
    (pp. 21-45)

    Since the Romantic period, few subjects have proved so obsessive to English-speaking writers as has the experience of a forced, one-way passage into a ruined world. The trauma of lost innocence has been a common denominator linking up the otherwise contrary personalities of a Wordsworth and a T. S. Eliot; the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins and the freethinking lapsed Protestant, Mark Twain; Faulkner and Hemingway and their contemptuously sardonic detractor Vladimir Nabokov. Thomas Wolfe’sLook Homeward,AngelandYou Can’t Go Home Againalso spring, titles and all, from this sense of exile from Eden, as do Scott Fitzgerald’s...

  6. 2 Poems of Passage
    (pp. 46-120)

    On looking over Warren’s eleven volumes of poems written over the span of half a century, one must be surprised at how permanently and deeply embedded is the theme of innocence confronting—or trying to evade—the trauma of awakening into a fallen world. Like Jack Burden wanting to remain an unknowing foetus inAll the King’s Men, the persona in many of Warren’s poems is either a child on the brink of this trauma or an adult who resists plunging into the pain, filth, and injustice of “the world’s stew,” as our poet calls it inYou, Emperors, and...

  7. 3 The Undiscovered Self
    (pp. 121-189)

    Up to this point, through what we have called Warren’s poetry of passage, the configuration of his thought has assumed a pattern similar to that of poets like Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas in their regret over the loss of a prelapsarian self and in their poetic attempts to eulogize the lost self. Warren departs sharply from such companion spirits, however, in his next stage of development, wherein the psyche in its fallen state is at last compelled to cope with its new and terrible sense of reality. This new sense of reality, reaching both outward into the immensity of time...

  8. 4 Mysticism
    (pp. 190-254)

    With the resolution of the undiscovered self theme after his “middle” period in the 1940s and 1950s, Warren was free to leave a Jungian and return to an essentially Romantic sensibility. He could proceed, that is, past the quasi-Romantic trauma of the Fall in the poems of passage into a Blakean or Wordsworthian “higher innocence” that might yet redeem the fallen creation. The sign of that higher innocence is the ability of the Warren persona, his inner being unified now by a reconciliation between the conscious and unconscious zones of the psyche, to connect himself vitally to the outer world,...

  9. 5 Postscript: An Appreciation
    (pp. 255-276)

    Louise Bogan selected “Pacific Gazer” as one of the “very fine” entries inThirty-six Poems;John L. Stewart thought it “probably his worst” in that collection. Stewart, in turn, bestowed the epithets “magnificent poem” and “superb poem” upon “Love’s Parable” and “The Return: An Elegy,” whereas F. W. Dupee found “The Return” to be “mildly embarrassing” and W. P. Southard called “Love’s Parable” the “only flat silly poem” inSelected Poems(1944). Skipping over the controversy about “Billie Potts,” we find Delmore Schwartz admiringBrother to Dragonsas “a work which is most remarkable as a sustained whole,” and John...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 277-284)
  11. Index of Warren’s Works
    (pp. 285-289)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 289-292)