Warren broke away from his somewhat morose obsession with evil with his sparkling Promises, winner of his first Pulitzer Prize in poetry. The first five poems of Promises are dedicated to Warren’s daughter Rosanna under the general title “To a Little Girl, One Year Old, in a Ruined Fortress.” The setting is the imposing ruin overlooking the Mediterranean Sea where Warren and his second wife, Eleanor, lived in Italy—Cesare Borgia’s hunting ground, said Warren, who always knows his history—“those blood-soaked stones.” The first poem of the series, “Sirocca,” speaks of Philip of Spain, “the black-browed, the anguished,/ For whom nothing prospered, though he loved God.” His arms, carved in stone, which once stood over the drawbridge, have long since fallen into the moat, buried in garbage. Yet the blue blooms of rosemary and the gold bloom of thistle flourish there, bringing gay laughter to the golden-haired child.
The poem establishes a contrast of perception, maintained through the five poems, between the innocence and delight of the child’s view of the world and the darker awareness of the father, who knows the evil and suffering enacted here—and which still goes on in the world. Nevertheless, because he participates in and marvels at the child’s innocent joy in nature, the speaker becomes reconciled to the world, believing, or at least praying, that all can be redeemed.
The second and third poems introduce some of the human misery existing in this beautiful setting. The pathetic,...
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