Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn
Warren
1905
1989

American Poet, Novelist, Educator

Author Quotes

America was based on a big promise?a great big one: the Declaration of Independence. When you have to live with that in the house, that?s quite a problem?particularly when you?ve got to make money and get ahead, open world markets, do all the things you have to, raise your children, and so forth. America is stuck with its self-definition put on paper in 1776, and that was just like putting a burr under the metaphysical saddle of America?you see, that saddle?s going to jump now and then and it pricks.

Against firelight, he sees the face of the woman lean over, and the lips purse sweet as to bestow a kiss, but this is not true, and the great glob of spit hangs there, glittering, before she lets it fall. The spit is what softens like silk the passage of steel on the fine-grained stone. It whispers.

All items listed above belong in the world in which all things are continuous, and are parts of the original dream which I am now trying to discover the logic of. This is the process whereby pain of the past in its pastness may be converted into the future tense of joy.

A young man?s ambition ? to get along in the world and make a place for himself ? half your life goes that way, till you?re 45 or 50. Then, if you?re lucky, you make terms with life, you get released.

After a great blow, or crisis, after the first shock and then after the nerves have stopped screaming and twitching, you settle down to the new condition of things and feel that all possibility of change has been used up. You adjust yourself, and are sure that the new equilibrium is for eternity. . . But if anything is certain it is that no story is ever over, for the story which we think is over is only a chapter in a story which will not be over, and it isn't the game that is over, it is just an inning, and that game has a lot more than nine innings. When the game stops it will be called on account of darkness. But it is a long day.

A friend of your youth is the only friend you ever have.

A look at the past reminds us of how great is the distance, and how short, over which we have come. The past makes us ask what we have done with us. It makes us ask whether our very achievements are not ironical counterpoint and contrast to our fundamental failures.

A man does not die for words. He dies for his relation to them.

A meaning. I was ten, skinny, red-headed, freckled. In a big black Buick, driven by a big grown boy, with a necktie, she sat in front of the drugstore, sipping something through a straw. There is nothing like beauty. It stops your heart. It thickens your blood. It stops your breath. It makes you feel dirty. You need a hot bath. I leaned against a telephone pole, and watched. I thought I would die if she saw me.

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.

After the Dinner Party -
You two sit at the table late, each, now and then,
Twirling a near-empty wine glass to watch the last red
Liquid blimb up the crystalline spin to the last moment when
Centrifugality fails: with nothing now said.

What is left to say when the last logs sag and wink?
The dark outside is streaked with the casual snowflake
Of winter’s demise, all guests long gone home, and you think
Of others who never again can come to partake

Of food, wine, laughter, and philosophy—
Though tonight one guest has quoted a killing phrase we owe
To a lost one whose grin, in eternal atrophy,
Now in dark celebrates some last unworded jest none can know.

Now a chair scrapes, sudden, on tiles, and one of you
Moves soundless, as in hypnotic certainty,
The length of table. Stands there a moment or two,
Then sits, reaches out a hand, open and empty.

How long it seems till a hand finds that hand there laid,
While ash, still glowing, crumbles, and silence is such
That the crumbling of ash is audible. Now naught’s left unsaid
Of the old heart-concerns, the last, tonight, which

Had been of the absent children, whose bright gaze
Over-arches the future’s horizon, in the mist of your prayers,
The last log is black, while ash beneath displays
No last glow. You snuff candles. Soon the old stairs

Will creak with your grave and synchronized tread as each mounts
To a briefness of light, then true weight of darkness, and then
That heart-dimness in which neither joy nor sorrow counts.
Even so, one hand gropes out for another, again.

Then let us turn now — you to me
And I to you — and hand to hand
Clasp, even though our fable be
Of strangers met in a strange land
Who pause, perturbed, then speak and know
That speech, half lost, can yet amaze
Joy at the root; then suddenly grow
Silent, and on each other gaze.

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.

Accept these images for what they are —
Out of the past a fragile element
Of substance into accident.
I would speak honestly and of a full heart;
I would speak surely for the tale is short,
And the soul's remorseless catalogue
Assumes its quick and piteous sum.

In silence the heart raves. It utters words
Meaningless, that never had
A meaning. I was ten, skinny, red-headed,
Freckled. In a big black Buick,
Driven by a big grown boy, with a necktie, she sat
In front of the drugstore, sipping something
Through a straw. There is nothing like
Beauty. It stops your heart.It
Thickens your blood. It stops your breath. It
Makes you feel dirty. You need a hot bath.
I leaned against a telephone pole, and watched.
I thought I would die if she saw me.

Tell me a story.
In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.
Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.
The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.
Tell me a story of deep delight.

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.Their's is the perfected pain of conscience that
Of forgetting the crime, and I hope you have not suffered it. I have.

There is always another country and always another place.
There is always another name and another face.
And the name and the face are you, and you
The name and the face, and the stream you gaze into
Will show the adoring face, show the lips that lift to you
As you lean with the implacable thirst of self,
As you lean to the image which is yourself,
To set the lip to lip, fix eye on bulging eye,
To drink not of the stream but of your deep identity,
But water is water and it flows,
Under the image on the water the water coils and goes
And its own beginning and its end only the water knows.

There are many countries and the rivers in them
-Cumberland, Tennessee, Ohio, Colorado, Pecos, Little Big Horn,
And Roll, Missouri, roll.
But there is only water in them.

And in the new country and in the new, place
The eyes of the new friend will reflect the new face
And his mouth will speak to frame
The syllables of the new name
And the name is you and is the agitation of the air
And is the wind and the wind runs and the wind is everywhere.

The name and the face are you.
And they are you.
Are new.

For they have been dipped in the healing flood.
For they have been dipped in the redeeming blood.
For they have been dipped in Time
And Time is only beginnings
Time is only and always beginnings
And is the redemption of our crime
And is our Saviour's priceless blood.

For Time is always the new place,
And no-place.
For Time is always the new name and the new face,
And no-name and no-face.

For Time is motion
For Time is innocence
For Time is West.

The poem... is a little myth of man's capacity of making 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.

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

American Poet, Novelist, Educator