Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn
Warren
1905
1989

American Poet, Novelist, Educator

Author Quotes

We are the prisoners of history. Or are we?

We danced in the handkerchief-big space between the speak-easy tables, in which stood the plates of half-eaten spaghetti or chicken bones and the bottles of Dago red. For about five minutes the dancing had some value in itself, then it became very much like acting out some complicated and portentous business in a dream which seems to have a meaning but whose meaning you can't figure out. Then the music was over, and stopping dancing was like waking up from the dream, being glad to wake up and escape and yet distressed because now you won't ever know what it had been all about.

Those were the ones which would turn loose their grip on the branch before long-- not in any breeze, the fibers would just relax, in the middle of the day maybe with the sunshine bright and the air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you've been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.

To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, the day we went up.

There was nothing particularly wrong with them; they were just the ordinary garden variety of human garbage.

There was only the sound of the July-flies, which seems to be inside your head like it is the grind and whirr of the springs and cogs which are you and which will not stop no matter what you say until they are good and ready.

There was the bulge and the glitter, and there was the cold grip way down in the stomach as though somebody had laid hold of something in there, in the dark which is you, with a cold hand in a cold rubber glove. It was like the second when you come home late at night and see the yellow envelope of the telegram sticking out from under your door and you lean and pick it up, but don't open it yet, not for a second. While you stand there in the hall, with the envelope in your hand, you feel there's an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark which is you, inside yourself, like a clammy, sad little fetus you carry around inside yourself. The eye knows what's in the envelope, and it is watching you to see you when you open it and know, too. But the clammy, sad little fetus which is you way down in the dark which is you too lifts up its sad little face and its eyes are blind, and it shivers cold inside you for it doesn't want to know what is in that envelope. It wants to lie in the dark and not know, and be warm in its not-knowing.

They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people there wouldn't be any you because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people.

This is not remarkable, for, as we know, reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events. We seem here to have a paradox: that the reality of an event, which is not real in itself, arises from the other events which, likewise, in themselves are not real. But this only affirms what we must affirm: that direction is all. And only as we realize this do we live, for our own identity is dependent upon this principal.

There ain't anything worth doing a man can do and keep his dignity. Can you figure out a single thing you really please-God like to do you can do and keep your dignity? The human frame just ain't built that way.

There is nothing brighter, crisper, more antiseptic, and cooler than a really first-rate corner drugstore on a hot summer night. If Anne Stanton is inside the door and the air conditioning is working.

There is nothing more alone than being in a car at night in the rain. I was in the car. And I was glad of it. Between one point on the map and another point on the map, there was the being alone in the car in the rain. They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people there wouldn't be any you because what you do which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people. That is a very comforting thought when you are in the car in the rain at night alone, for then you aren't you, and not being you or anything, you can really lie back and get some rest. It is a vacation from being you. There is only the flow of the motor under you foot spinning that frail thread of sound out of its metal guy like a spider, that filament, that nexus, which isn't really there, between the you which you have just left in one place and the you which you will be where you get to the other place.

Then one morning he went out into that world and did not come back to the room and the pine table. The black books, in which the journal was written, the ring, the photograph, the packet of letters were left there, beside the thick stack of manuscript, the complete works of Jack Burden, which was already beginning to curl at the edges under the paperweight.

The world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide. It does not matter whether or not you meant to brush the web of things. Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it ever so lightly, but what happens always happens and there is the spider, bearded black and with his great faceted eyes glittering like mirrors in the sun, or like God?s eye, and the fangs dripping.

The Yankee dollar and Confederate dumbness combined to heal the wounds of four years of fratricidal strife.

Then after a long time Annie wasn?t a little girl anymore. She was a big girl and I was so much in love with her that I lived in a dream. In the dream my heart seemed to be ready to burst, for it seemed that the whole world was inside it swelling to get out and be the world. But that summer came to an end. Time passed and nothing happened that we had felt so certain at one time would happen.

The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind. The best you can do is do something and then make up some law to fit and by the time that law gets on the books you would have done something different.

The law is like a single-bed blanket on a double bed and three folks in the bed and a cold night. There ain?t ever enough blanket to cover the case, no matter how much pulling and hauling, and somebody is always going to nigh catch pneumonia. Hell, the law is like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy, but it is always this year and the seams are popped and the shankbone?s to the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind.

The oaks, how subtle and marine! Bearded, and all the layered light above them swims; and thus the scene, recessed, awaits the positive night.

The past is always a rebuke to the present.

The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making his life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see - it is, rather, a light by which we may see - and what we see is life.

The poet is in the end probably more afraid of the dogmatist who wants to extract the message from the poem and throw the poem away than he is of the sentimentalist who says, "Oh, just let me enjoy the poem."

The train goes fast and is going fast when it crosses a little trestle. You catch the sober, metallic, pure, late-light, unriffled glint of the water between the little banks, under the sky, and see the cow standing in the water upstream near the single leaning willow. And all at once you feel like crying. But the train is going fast, and almost immediately whatever you feel is taken away from you, too.

The urge to write poetry is like having an itch. When the itch becomes annoying enough, you scratch it.

The lack of a sense of history is the damnation of the modern world.

Author Picture
First Name
Robert Penn
Last Name
Warren
Birth Date
1905
Death Date
1989
Bio

American Poet, Novelist, Educator