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Then and Now

Then and Now: The Personal Past in the Poetry of Robert Penn Warren

Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Then and Now
    Book Description:

    Taking a new approach to the study of Robert Penn Warren's imposing and still growing poetic canon, Floyd C. Watkins has found in the poems what he describes as a "poetic autobiography" unparalleled in American letters. Drawing on interviews with Warren, members of his family, and contemporaries from his hometown, but keeping the poetry itself constantly at the center of his vision, Watkins shows how the poetry has grown from the experience of the boy and man and from his contemplation of his family's and his country's history.

    He traces through the poems a family chronicle, moving from the frontier to the late twentieth century, and set in a landscape that is clearly derived from the Kentucky of Warren's boyhood. The little town of Guthrie, divided by railroad tracks, with its two burial grounds for whites and blacks, becomes in the poems a town of both memory and imagination, peopled by characters many of whom are recognizable to Warren's contemporaries. The images of a black man fleeing through swampy woods outside the town, of a grayfaced man who led a lynch mob, of a mad druggist making a list of people to poison, all have counterparts in Guthrie's history.Then and Nowis a revealing and provocative study of the poetic process in a poet who is thought of as the originator of the biographical fallacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6485-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. A Note on Sources & Documentation
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. 1 Creation & Criticism
    (pp. 1-15)

    THE EARLY POETRY of Robert Penn Warren is precise in its concrete imagery, grounded on the earth itself in the particularity of the experiences described in the poems, psychologically rooted in fundamental human states of mind. But it is aloof, general in some ways, usually anonymous in its characters. The relationship between the poet and the poem was known only to Warren, and even though he asserted in later years that some of the early poems were deeply rooted in his personal experience, the poem itself does not provide an example or explanation of its origins.

    In Warren’s full poetic...

  7. 2 The Penns, The Warrens, & the Boy
    (pp. 16-62)

    THE WESTWARD movement to an always hoped-for new Eden has been a constant in the history of America. It has dominated the lives of Robert Penn Warren’s family and of his works. His ancestors, the Penns and the Warrens, traveled from Virginia to Kentucky, sometimes by way of North Carolina and Tennessee. Warren’s own adventuresome migrations, first a few miles south to the literary center of Nashville, then to California, to Yale and Europe, to Louisiana and Minnesota, to Europe (especially France and Rome) again, and back again to Connecticut have been deeply symbolic in his life, in his concept...

  8. 3 Guthrie & Cerulean Springs
    (pp. 63-121)

    MANY AMERICAN writers in the twentieth century have created imaginary regions or towns, and in some of them families, characters, and bits of stories appear and reappear in separate works. Some of the literary places have passed through historical stages and processes resembling the actual development of American communities—the establishment of settlements on the frontier and their gradual maturing into towns. Most major American writers, perhaps especially those from the South, have spent their childhoods in small communities and have written about them during most of their creative years. Only in the latter part of the twentieth century have...

  9. 4 Now and Then–Father, Mother, Friend, Self
    (pp. 122-170)

    THIS IS the story of a poetic life, but not of the life of the poet. Parts of the poetry may be biographical; parts certainly are not. The particular work at hand must come first, but sometimes there are new revelations as one follows differently colored threads through the fabric. One must read the individual poems—a long delight in itself—and then rearrangement reveals what was there all the time, a sort of spiritual or emotional autobiography somewhat like Wordsworth’sPrelude.

    In such a biography of the poet or the soul there are several levels of time—the moment...

  10. References
    (pp. 171-176)
  11. Index
    (pp. 177-184)