Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn

American Poet, Novelist, Educator

Author Quotes

Nobody had ever tried to stop me in June as long as I could remember, and when you are nine years old, what you remember seems forever; for you remember everything and everything is important and stands bigs and full and fills up Time and is so solid that you can walk around and around it like a tree and look at it. You are aware that times passes, that there is a movement in time, but that is not what Time is. Time is not a movement, a flowing, a wind then, but is, rather, a kind of climate in which things are, and when a thing happens it begins to live and keeps on living and stands solid in Time like the tree that you can walk around.

Nodding, its great head rattling like a gourd, and locks like seaweed strung on the stinking stone, the nightmare stumbles past.

Nothing fazed him, not insult or anger or violence or getting his face beat into a hamburger. He was a true businessman. He knew the value of everything.

Now and then a pair of eyes would burn at us out of the dark ahead. I knew that they were the eyes of a cow?a poor dear stoic old cow with a cud, standing on the highway shoulder, for there wasn't any stock law?but her eyes burned at us out of the dark as though her skull were full of blazing molten metal like blood and we could see inside the skull into that bloody hot brightness in that moment when the reflection was right before we picked up her shape, which is so perfectly formed to be pelted with clods, and knew what she was and knew that inside that unlovely knotty head there wasn't anything but a handful of coldly coagulated gray mess in which something slow happened as we went by. We were something slow happening inside the cold brain of a cow.

No, the Boss corrected, I'm not a lawyer. I know some law. ... but I'm not a lawyer. That's why I can see what the law is like. It's 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 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.

Nobody had ever told me that anything could be like this.

My only crime was being a man and living in the world of men, and you don't have to do special penance for that. The crime and the penance, in that case, coincide perfectly. They are identical.

More and more Emerson recedes grandly into history, as the future he predicted becomes a past.

Most writers are trying to find what they think or feel. . . . not simply working from the given, but toward the given, saying the unsayable and steadily asking, "What do I really feel about this?"

My mind is intact, but the shapes of the world change.

Let the hog lie, and listen to me, you hicks. Yeah, you?re hicks, too, and they?ve fooled you, too, a thousand times, just like they fooled me. For that?s what they think we?re for. To fool. Well, this time I?m going to fool somebody. I?m going to get out of this race.

Life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely ruffles the leaf of the willow.

Lois looked edible, and you know it was tender all the way through, a kind of mystic combination of filet mignon and a Georgia peach aching for the tongue and ready to bleed gold.

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard The great geese hoot northward. I could not see them, there being no moon And the stars sparse. I heard them. I did not know what was happening in my heart.

Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.

In separateness only does love learn definition.

It all began, as I have said, when the Boss, sitting in the black Cadillac which sped through the night, said to me (to Me who was what Jack Burden, the student of history, had grown up to be) There is always something. And I said, Maybe not on the Judge. And he said, Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.

It is a human defect--to try to know one's self by the self of another.

It never crossed my mind when I began writing fiction that I could write about anything except life in the South. It never crossed my mind that I knew about anything else; knew, that is, well enough to write about. Nothing else ever nagged you enough to stir the imagination.

I've been to a lot of places and done a lot of things, but writing was always first. It's a kind of pain I can't do without.

Just tell 'em you're gonna soak the fat boys and forget the rest of the tax stuff...Willie, make 'em cry, make 'em laugh, make 'em mad, even mad at you. Stir them up and they'll love it and come back for more, but, for heaven's sakes, don't try to improve their minds.

In a way, the very success which the Boss laid on Tiny was his revenge on Tiny, for every time the Boss put his meditative, sleepy, distant gaze on Tiny, Tiny would know, with a cold clutch at his fat heart, that if the Boss should crook a finger there wouldn't be anything but the whiff of smoke.

In America they have to know just what you are-- novelist, poet, playwright... Well, I've been all of them... I think poems and novels and stories spring from the same seed. It's not like, say, playing polo and knitting.

If he believed that you had to make the good out of the bad because there wasn't anything else to make it out of, why did he stir up such a fuss about keeping Tiny's hands off the Willie Stark Hospital?

If something takes too long, something happens to you. You become all and only the thing you want and nothing else, for you have paid too much for it, too much in wanting and too much in waiting and too much in getting.

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Robert Penn
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American Poet, Novelist, Educator