Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn

American Poet, Novelist, Educator

Author Quotes

The child comes home and the parent puts the hooks in him. The old man, or the woman, as the case may be, hasn?t got anything to say to the child. All he wants is to have that child sit in a chair for a couple of hours and then go off to bed under the same roof. It?s not love. I am not saying that there is not such a thing as love. I am merely pointing to something which is different from love but which sometimes goes by the name of love. It may well be that without this thing which I am talking about there would not be any love. But this thing in itself is not love. It is just something in the blood. It is a kind of blood greed, and it is the fate of a man. It is the thing which man has which distinguishes him from the happy brute creation. When you got born your father and mother lost something out of themselves, and they are going to bust a hame trying to get it back, and you are it. They know they can?t get it all back but they will get as big a chunk out of you as they can.

The creation of man whom God in his foreknowledge knew doomed to sin was the awful index of God's omnipotence. For it would have been a thing of trifling and contemptible ease for Perfection to create mere perfection. To do so would, to speak truth, be not creation but extension. Separateness is identity and the only way for God to create, truly create, man was to make him separate from God Himself, and to be separate from God is to be sinful. The creation of evil is therefore the index of God's glory and His power. That had to be so that the creation of good might be the index of man's glory and power. But by God's help. By His help and in His wisdom.

The end of man is knowledge but there's one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can't know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn't got and which if he had it would save him.

The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he does not really see you. He sees in his mind a face that does not exist anymore, speaks a name ? Spike, Bud, Snip, Red, Rusty, Jack, Dave ? which belongs to that now nonexistent face but which by some inane doddering confusion of the universe is for the moment attached to a not happily met and boring stranger. But he humors the drooling doddering confusion of the universe and continues to address politely that dull stranger by the name which properly belongs to the boy face and to the time when the boy voice called thinly across the late afternoon water or murmured by a campfire at night or in the middle of a crowded street said, Gee, listen to this??On Wenlock Edge the wood?s in trouble; His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves?? The Friend of Your Youth is your friend because he does not see you anymore. And perhaps he never saw you. What he saw was simply part of the furniture of the wonderful opening world. Friendship was something he suddenly discovered and had to give away as a recognition of and payment for the breathlessly opening world which momently divulged itself like a moonflower. It didn?t matter a damn to whom he gave it, for the fact of giving was what mattered, and if you happened to be handy you were automatically endowed with all the appropriate attributes of a friend and forever after your reality is irrelevant. The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he hasn?t the slightest concern with calculating his interest or your virtue. He doesn?t give a damn, for the moment, about Getting Ahead or Needs Must Admiring the Best, the two official criteria in adult friendships, and when the boring stranger appears, he puts out his hand and smiles (not really seeing your face) and speaks your name (which doesn?t really belong to your face), saying, Well, Jack, damned glad you came, come on in, boy!

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.

The best luck always happens to people who don't need it.

The buzzards over Pondy Woods achieve the blue tense altitudes black figments that the woods release, obscenity in form and grace, drifting high through the pure sunshine till the sun in gold decline.

Such fable ours! However sweet, that earlier hope had, if fulfilled, been but child's pap and toothless meat ? And meaning blunt and deed unwilled, and we but motes that dance in light and in such light gleam like the core of light, but lightless, are in right blind dust that fouls the unswept floor. For, no: not faith by fable lives, but from the faith the fable springs ? It never is the song that gives tongue life, it is the tongue that sings; and sings the song. Then, let the act speak, it is the unbetrayable. Command, if music, let the fact make music's motion; us, the fable.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

That summer we had been absolutely alone, together, even when people were around, the only inhabitants of the kind of floating island or magic carpet which being in love is.

That the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of good, and the devil take the hindmost.

So I pulled the sun screen down and squinted and put the throttle to the floor. And kept on moving west. For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. IT is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and see the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar's gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.

So little time we live in Time, and we learn all so painfully, that we may spare this hour's term to practice for Eternity.

So there are two you's, the one you create by loving and the one the beloved creates by loving you. The farther those two you's are apart the more the world grinds and grudges on its axis. But if you loved and were loved perfectly then there wouldn't be any difference between the two you's or any distance between them. They would coincide perfectly, there would be perfect focus, as when a stereoscope gets the twin images on the card into perfect alignment.

Sometimes sleep gets to be a serious and complete thing. You stop going to sleep in order that you may be able to get up, but get up in order that you may be able to go back to sleep.

Storytelling and copulation are the two chief forms of amusement in the South. They?re inexpensive and easy to procure.

She lifted her sewing and bit off the thread in the way women do to make your flesh crawl.

She never came back. The family sort of drifted off. Nobody wears shiny boots like that now. But I know she is beautiful forever, and lives in a beautiful house, far away. She called my name once. I didn't even know she knew it.

Process as process is neither morally good nor morally bad. We may judge results but not process. The morally bad agent may perform the deed which is good. The morally good agent may perform the deed which is bad. Maybe a man has to sell his soul to get the power to do good.

Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write.

Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events.

Season late, day late, sun just down, and the sky cold gunmetal but with a wash of live rose, and she, from water the color of sky except where her motion has fractured it to shivering splinters of silver, rises. Stands on the raw grass. Against the new-curdling night of spruces, nakedness glimmers and, at bosom and flank, drips with fluent silver. The man, some ten strokes out, but now hanging motionless in the gunmetal water, feet cold with the coldness of depth, all history dissolving from him, is nothing but an eye. Is an eye only. Sees the body that is marked by his use, and Time's, rise, and in the abrupt and unsustaining element of air, sway, lean, grapple the pond-bank. Sees how, with that posture of female awkwardness that is, and is the stab of, suddenly perceived grace, breasts bulge down in the pure curve of their weight and buttocks moon up and, in swelling unity, are silver and glimmer. Then tThe body is erect, she is herself, whatever self she may be, and with an end of the towel grasped in each hand, slowly draws it back and forth across back and buttocks, but with face lifted toward the high sky, where the over-wash of rose color now fails. Fails, though no star yet throbs there. The towel, forgotten, does not move now. The gaze remains fixed on the sky. The body, profiled against the darkness of spruces, seems to draw to itself, and condense in its whiteness, what light in the sky yet lingers or, from the metallic and abstract severity of water, lifts. The body, with the towel now trailing loose from one hand, is a white stalk from which the face flowers gravely toward the high sky. This moment is non-sequential and absolute, and admits of no definition, for it subsumes all other, and sequential, moments, by which definition might be possible. The woman, face yet raised, wraps, with a motion as though standing in sleep, the towel about her body, under her breasts, and, holding it there hieratic as lost Egypt and erect, moves up the path that, stair-steep, winds into the clamber and tangle of growth. Beyond the lattice of dusk-dripping leaves, whiteness dimly glimmers, goes. Glimmers and is gone, and the man, suspended in his darkling medium, stares upward where, though not visible, he knows she moves, and in his heart he cries out that, if only he had such strength, he would put his hand forth and maintain it over her to guard, in all her out-goings and in-comings, from whatever inclemency of sky or slur of the world's weather might ever be. In his heart he cries out. Above height of the spruce-night and heave of the far mountain, he sees the first star pulse into being. It gleams there. I do not know what promise it makes him.

Perhaps he had to be close in order to keep a reason for the things he did. To make the things he did be themselves Life. And not merely a delightful exercise of technical skill which man had been able to achieve because he, of all animals, had a fine thumb. Which is nonsense, for whatever you live is Life.

Poets, we know, are terribly sensitive people, and in my observation one of the things they are most sensitive about is money.

Politics is a matter of choices, and a man doesn't set up the choices himself. And there is always a price to make a choice. You know that. You've made a choice, and you know how much it cost you. There is always a price.

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Robert Penn
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American Poet, Novelist, Educator