Poetry Mountain


Poetry Mountain: online journal
Contemporary Poets Archive
Classic Poets Archive
Literary Magazines
In-Print Poetry Books (Search)
Writing Contests
Award Winners
Funding Opportunities
Writing Programs
General Resources
For Students
For Teachers
About This Site

The Shadow Waters blog

Donate to Site

Contact Us
Found broken links?
Want something added?
Get our eNewsletter


Four Poems by Robert Penn Warren
Paris Review Interview, 1957
The Academy of American Poets: Robert Penn Warren
Audio: Listen to Warren read "The Nature of a Mirror"

Robert Penn Warren (April 24, 1905 - September 15, 1989) was an American poet and novelist. While most famous from the success of his novel All the King's Men (1946), Warren is considered by some to be one of the most underappreciated major American authors.

Warren was born in Guthrie, Kentucky and graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1925 and the University of California, Berkeley in 1926. He later attended Yale University and obtained his B. Litt. as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England in 1930. That same year he married Emma Brescia, from whom he divorced in 1951. He then married Eleanor Clark in 1952. They had two children, Rosanna Phelps Warren (b. July 1953) and Gabriel Penn Warren (b.July 1955). Though his works strongly reflect Southern themes and mindset, Warren lived the latter part of his life in Fairfield, Connecticut and Stratton, Vermont. He died in 1989 of complications from bone cancer.

still an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, he became associated with the group of poets there known as the Fugitives, and somewhat later, during the early 1930s, Warren and some of the same writers formed a group known as the Southern Agrarians. He contributed "The Briar Patch" to the Agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand along with 11 other Southern writers and poets (including fellow Vanderbilt poet/critics John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson).

Warren won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for his best known work, the novel All the King's Men. He won Pulitzer Prizes in poetry in 1958 for Promises: Poems 1954-1956, and in 1979 for Now and Then. All the King's Men became a very successful film in 1949 and remake by director Steven Zaillian into a movie slated for release in September 2006.

In 1981, Warren was selected as a MacArthur Fellow and later was named as the first U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry on February 26, 1986. Warren was coauthor, with Cleanth Brooks, of Understanding Poetry, an influential literature textbook (which was followed by other similarly coauthored textbooks Understanding Fiction and Modern Rhetoric) written from what can be called a New Critic approach.

In April of 2005, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp to mark the 100th anniversary of Penn Warren's birth. Introduced at the Post Office in his native Guthrie, it depicts the author as he appeared in a 1948 photograph, with a background scene of a political rally designed to evoke the setting of All the King's Men. His son and daughter, Gabriel and Rosanna Warren, were in attendance.


Four Poems:

A Way to Love God
Here is the shadow of truth, for only the shadow is true.
And the line where the incoming swell from the sunset Pacific
First leans and staggers to break will tell all you need to know
About submarine geography, and your father's death rattle
Provides all biographical data required for the Who's Who of the dead.

I cannot recall what I started to tell you, but at least
I can say how night-long I have lain under the stars and
Heard mountains moan in their sleep.  By daylight,
They remember nothing, and go about their lawful occasions
Of not going anywhere except in slow disintegration.  At night
They remember, however, that there is something they cannot remember.
So moan.  Theirs is the perfected pain of conscience that
Of forgetting the crime, and I hope you have not suffered it.  I have.

I do not recall what had burdened my tongue, but urge you
To think on the slug's white belly, how sick-slick and soft,
On the hairiness of stars, silver, silver, while the silence
Blows like wind by, and on the sea's virgin bosom unveiled
To give suck to the wavering serpent of the moon; and,
In the distance, in plaza, piazza, place, platz, and square,
Boot heels, like history being born, on cobbles bang.

Everything seems an echo of something else.

And when, by the hair, the headsman held up the head
Of Mary of Scots, the lips kept on moving,
But without sound.  The lips,
They were trying to say something very important.

But I had forgotten to mention an upland
Of wind-tortured stone white in darkness, and tall, but when
No wind, mist gathers, and once on the Sarré at midnight,
I watched the sheep huddling.  Their eyes
Stared into nothingness.  In that mist-diffused light their eyes
Were stupid and round like the eyes of fat fish in muddy water,
Or of a scholar who has lost faith in his calling.

Their jaws did not move.  Shreds
Of dry grass, gray in the gray mist-light, hung
From the side of a jaw, unmoving.

You would think that nothing would ever again happen.

That may be a way to love God.

[from The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (1998)]


Natural History

In the rain the naked old father is dancing; he will get wet.
The rain is sparse, but he cannot dodge all the drops.

He is singing a song, but the language is strange to me.

The mother is counting her money like made, in the sunshine.
Like shuttles her fingers fly, and the sum is clearly astronomical.
Her breath is sweet as bruised violets, and her smile sways like daffodils
                                                                        reflected in a brook.

The song of the father tells how at last he understands.
That is why the language is strange to me.

That is why clocks all over the continent have stopped.

The money the naked old mother counts is her golden memories of love.
That is why I see nothing in her maniacally busy fingers.

That is why all flights have been canceled out of Kennedy.

As much as I hate to, I must summon the police.
For their own good, as well as that of society, they must be put under

They must learn to stay in their graves.  That’s what graves are for.

[from The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (1998)]


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. 

[from The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (1998)]


The Nature of a Mirror (audio)

The sky has murder in the eye, and I
Have murder in the heart, for I
Am only human.
We look at each other, the sky and I.
We understand each other, for

For the solstice of summer has sagged.  I stand
And wait.  Virtue is rewarded, that
Is the nightmare, and I must tell you

That soon now, even before
The change from Daylight Savings Time, the sun,
Beyond the western ridge of black-burnt pine stubs like
A snaggery of rotten shark teeth, sinks
Lower, larger, more blank, and redder than
A mother’s rage, as though
F.D.R. had never run for office even, or the first vagina
Had not had the texture of dream.  Time

Is the mirror into which you stare.

[from The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (1998)]



Advertise With Us

    [Our biography was extracted and edited from wikipedia.org]      
Last Updated: Mon, July 24, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.