Warren, Robert Penn
Robert Penn Warren 1905-1989
American poet, novelist, critic, biographer, dramatist, essayist, and short story writer.
A versatile writer, distinguished as a novelist and a critic, Warren is regarded as one of the finest American poets of the second half of the twentieth century. His most well-known work remains his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King's Men (1946). Warren is also remembered as a seminal figure in the development of the influential critical theory known as New Criticism, a system of literary analysis that focuses sharply on the intrinsic qualities of a work, rather than on outside influences and contexts. Nonetheless, Warren viewed himself foremost as a poet, and his contributions to the American poetic tradition are considerable. For his numerous collections of verse and long narrative poems, which treat such predominant themes as man's guilt, the presence of evil and moral corruption, the necessity of self-definition and discovery, and the possibilities of human redemption, Warren earned abundant awards and honors, including two additional Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award. In 1986 Warren was named the first official poet laureate of the United States.
Warren was born in Guthrie, Kentucky. After completing high school, he was granted an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, but shortly thereafter suffered an eye injury that left him unable to enter the military. He chose instead to attend Vanderbilt University and began his studies in engineering before switching to English literature within a few weeks. Under the tutelage of John Crowe Ransom, his freshman English instructor, Warren joined the “Fugitives,” a union of teachers and students at Vanderbilt whose meetings consisted of lively discussions of poetry and critical theory and whose writings were published in a periodical of the same name. Ransom and fellow Vanderbilt student Allen Tate encouraged Warren in his first poetic efforts; the literary tastes of both poets proved Warren's strongest early influences. After graduation in 1925 and the fragmentation of the “Fugitive” group, Warren continued his studies at the University of California, Berkeley. There he met Emma Brescia, who would later become his first wife. Disappointed with his studies in California, Warren transferred to Yale University and later attended Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. His first published work of literature, aside from a handful of short poems and essays which had appeared earlier in periodicals, was a biography, John Brown: The Making of a Martyr, published in 1929. After finishing his studies at Oxford in 1930, Warren returned to America, married Brescia, and began teaching at Southwestern Presbyterian College and Vanderbilt. In 1934, he took a position at Louisiana State University and joined forces with professor Cleanth Brooks in founding the Southern Review. Together with Brooks, Warren also edited the influential Understanding Poetry: An Anthology for College Students (1938), a key text of New Criticism. Meanwhile, Warren's continued poetic efforts materialized in the 1935 publication of Thirty-Six Poems, his first collection. By 1944, Warren, now a professor at the University of Minnesota, had completed Selected Poems: 1923-1943, and two novels: Night Rider (1939) and At Heaven's Gate (1943). During the subsequent decade, Warren experienced a total drought in poetic composition. Unable to complete anything in verse, he focused his energies on prose, notably in his most celebrated novel All the King's Men and his critical essay on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner entitled “A Poem of Pure Imagination: An Experiment in Reading,” later collected in his Selected Essays (1958). In 1950, Warren settled in New England after accepting a professorship at Yale. He divorced Brescia in 1951, married the writer Eleanor Clark the following year, and began writing verse again. The result was his long narrative poem Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices (1953). From this point onward, Warren's poetic output was vigorous and steady. His next volume Promises: Poems 1954-1956 (1957) earned him a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. For Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978 (1978) he was awarded a second Pulitzer for poetry. By the early 1980s, having published more than a dozen volumes of poetry, as well as novels, essays, criticism, and other works, Warren was widely regarded as one of American's preeminent men of letters. In the autumn of 1989, Warren died of bone cancer in Stratton, Vermont.
The earliest phase of Warren's poetic career reflects the impact of the “Fugitive” poets John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, and their own interests and influences. The imagery of “The Garden” is reminiscent of that found in the works of the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, while the detached tone of Warren's “To a Face in a Crowd” owes much to T. S. Eliot's modernist masterpiece The Waste Land. Warren's early mode of poetic composition was designated by its formality, and by his use of highly compressed narrative and extensive symbolism, evident in the collection Eleven Poems on the Same Theme (1942). Eleven Poems features a subject Warren would approach in various ways throughout his career: the tragic consequences and guilt cause by Original Sin, demonstrated in such pieces as “Bearded Oaks,” “Crime,” “Pursuit,” and “Terror.” The theme is interpreted further in the dramatic poem “The Ballad of Billie Potts,” which first appeared in Selected Poems: 1923-1943. A figure of folk legend, Potts hails from a family of Kentucky scoundrels and highway robbers. One day, he leaves home to make his way west, but when he returns ten years later as a wealthy man, his parents murder him before realizing his identity. In “The Ballad of Billie Potts” and the remainder of Selected Poems: 1923-1943, Warren confronts a number of fundamental themes: man's alienation, psychological fragmentation, and the possibility of salvation. The subject of the blank verse narrative Brother to Dragons is a historical one. It depicts the appalling murder of a slave by Lilburn Lewis, nephew of Thomas Jefferson, for breaking a pitcher once treasured by Lewis's dead mother. Warren takes significant liberties with history in order to tell his story. A major figure in Brother to Dragons is the author himself. Bearing Warren's initials, R. P. W. speaks with the historical characters in the work, including a disagreeable Jefferson, who Warren casts as the ideological villain of the piece. With the completion of Brother to Dragons, Warren's poetry begins to take on a more personal note and combines a heightened expressiveness accompanied by his still-abiding interest in history. Inspiration for the lyric verse of Promises: Poems 1954-1956 rests primarily on Warren's experience as a father. Dedicated to his daughter, the poetic sequence “To a Little Girl, One Year Old, in a Ruined Fortress” contrasts youthful innocence with the evils of the world. Several of the pieces in You, Emperors, and Others: Poems 1957-1960 (1960) are addressed directly to the reader, while others examine life from the perspective of an ordinary citizen of the Roman Empire. All but one of the Selected Poems: New and Old, 1923-1966 (1966) are arranged in sequences, a format that Warren made use of extensively in his later writings. One of these poetic cycles, “Homage to Emerson, On Night Flight to New York,” contrasts Emerson's transcendentalist belief in man's divine nature with images of humanity's failures and weaknesses. Scattered with irony and melancholy, the verses of Incarnations: Poems 1966-1968 (1968) meditate on the beauties of the natural world as well as the limitations of the flesh. The collection contains the poem “Masts at Dawn,” which ends with the lines, “We must try / To love so well the world that we may believe, in the end, in God”—a summation of one of the most significant themes of Warren's middle career. The narrative source of Audubon: A Vision (1969) derives from the attempted murder of the renowned naturalist John James Audubon, although the work's thematic strains turn to Audubon's delight in the freedom and grace of the birds he painted and admired. Themes of time and knowledge predominate in the collection Or Else: Poem / Poems 1968-1974 (1974). The volume includes the poem “A Problem in Spatial Composition,” which features one of Warren's frequently revisited images, that of a hawk diving into an Edenic sunset. The ten new pieces in Selected Poems: 1923-1975 (1976) Warren entitled “Can I See Arcturus From Where I Stand?—Poems 1975.” Such works as “A Way to Love God” and “Loss, of Perhaps Love, in Our World of Contingency” contemplate the possibilities of transcendence amid earthly suffering. A dialectic between nostalgia and speculation informs the verses of Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978 (1978). In “Red-Tail Hawk and Funeral Pyre” of this collection, Warren transports himself to his boyhood shooting of a hawk, a violating act emblematic of human guilt and moral corruption. In the poem's ten sections, Warren then begins to explore in earnest a number of the work's primary themes: individual responsibility, self-definition, and self-revelation. Time and memory are central to Being Here: Poetry 1977-1980 (1980), which also reflects on the possibilities of overcoming solitude and isolation, while mortality is the chief subject of Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980 (1981). Turning once again to American history, Warren based his 1983 narrative poem Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce on the Native American leader's resistance to U. S. government efforts to relocate his tribe, and details atrocities perpetrated during the War of 1877. Warren grouped the latest works of his New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985 (1985) under the title “Altitudes and Extensions,” pieces that reflect on the expanses and heights of North America while frequently transporting the reader to Warren's own youth. The volume begins with the poem “Three Darknesses,” in which the narrator learns that, despite the postlapsarian failure of human communication, the world and God speak a language that those willing to listen may understand.
Critics of Warren have frequently commented on his extraordinarily varied contribution to American literature, while noting his strong reliance on a number of poetic themes centered around the Fall from innocence, and its consequent guilt and alienation. Others have analyzed Warren's development as a poet, seeing his growth from the dense formalism of his early works, to the historicism of his ambitious near-epic Brother to Dragons, and finally to the growing personal, conversational tone of his later works. In terms of his poetic composition and versification, James Wright has observed Warren's “violent distortions” of language. Still other reviewers have discussed Warren's broad range of verbal communication, seeing in Warren's verse a powerful fusion of the lyrical and the personal, the irreverent and the sacred. Reviewers have also remarked on Warren's poetic experimentalism, which joins irregular meters and rhythms with highly controlled structural patterns. Frequently, commentators have regarded the unevenness of Warren's poetic diction, citing overblown passages and occasionally awkward words or phrases likely caused by rapid composition or a desire for the grandiose. Respondents to this mode of criticism, however, have attributed Warren's lapses to his exceptional willingness to take risks as a poet, citing the importance of such transitional works as Incarnations and Audubon, which depict his renewed vigor and courage in verse, as well as the modulation of his voice nearer to poetic greatness. In the late 1970s, critic Harold Bloom led the effort to canonize Warren as one of the great poets of the twentieth-century tradition, contending that Warren “ranks with the foremost American poets of the century,” including Robert Frost, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot. Bloom has also analyzed Warren's frequently recapitulated image of the hawk, viewing it as an emblem of redemption central to his poetic œuvre, and has commented on the strong thread of moralism that defines Warren's poetry and writing in general. Critics have since observed that Warren produced some of his most original and visionary poetry late in life, exemplified by the lyrics of Now and Then, which are numbered among his finest works. After Warren's death, however, his poetic reputation has experienced a small, but noticeable, decline. The publication of The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren in 1998 proved a boon for scholarly study, but some reviewers have argued that his relevance to contemporary poetry has steadily waned. Nevertheless, Warren stands as one of the major figures of twentieth-century American poetry, whose works, James Dickey has written, “invest us with the greatest and most exacting of all human powers: that of discovering and defining what we must be, within the thing that we are.”
Thirty-Six Poems 1935
Eleven Poems on the Same Theme 1942
Selected Poems: 1923-1943 1944
Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices [revised edition, 1979] 1953
Promises: Poems 1954-1956 1957
You, Emperors, and Others: Poems 1957-1960 1960
Selected Poems: New and Old, 1923-1966 1966
Incarnations: Poems 1966-1968 1968
Audubon: A Vision 1969
Or Else: Poem / Poems 1968-1974 1974
Selected Poems: 1923-1975 1976
Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978 1978
Being Here: Poetry 1977-1980 1980
Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980 1981
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce 1983
New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985 1985
The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren 1998
John Brown: The Making of a Martyr (biography) 1929
I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition [with others] (essays) 1930
Understanding Poetry: An Anthology for College Students [editor; with Cleanth Brooks] (criticism) 1938
Night Rider (novel) 1939
At Heaven's Gate (novel) 1943...
(The entire section is 311 words.)
SOURCE: Brooks, Cleanth. “The Modern Poet and the Tradition.” In Modern Poetry and the Tradition, 77-87. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939, 253p.
[In the following excerpt, Brooks praises Warren's skilled manipulation of irony, contrast, and theme in his poetry.]
In Robert Penn Warren's sequence of poems, “Kentucky Mountain Farm,” the reader might expect to find an exploitation of Southern rural life, and there is enough accurate description to validate the poet's localizing of his scene. Consider for instance, the third poem of the sequence, “History among the Rocks.” The poet recounts the various ways of dying in the country of the rocks—freezing, drowning, the bite of the copperhead in the wheat:
By flat limestone, will coil the copperhead, Fanged as the sunlight, hearing the reaper's feet.
But the items of local color are absorbed in the poem as adjuncts of the larger theme. These ways of dying are all “natural,” and the poet, by making them seem to inhere in the landscape, makes them seem easy, effortless, appropriate. “But,” the poet goes on to say,
there are other ways, the lean men said: In these autumn orchards once young men lay dead … Grey coats, blue coats. Young men on the mountainside Clambered, fought. Heels muddied the rocky spring. Their reason is...
(The entire section is 3076 words.)
SOURCE: Forgotson, E. S. “The Poetic Method of Robert Penn Warren.” American Prefaces VI (Winter 1941): 130-46.
[In the following essay, Forgotson evaluates Warren's poetic technique, concentrating on the poet's use of symbolism and compression in an extended explication of “Eidolon,” and in partial analyses of “Aubade for Hope” and “The Garden.”]
The body of poetry to be examined in this essay is “modern,” yet its modernity may be viewed, I think, as being more of the second generation than of the first. Though the early part of Warren's career was marked by some precocity—he assisted in editing The Fugitive while he was still an undergraduate at Vanderbilt in 1923—most of the poems appearing in his single published volume (Thirty-Six Poems, 1935) were probably written after 1925; that is to say, in the period from his twentieth to his thirtieth year. Thus, at the time when he was attempting to define his own style and technique, he had the advantage of a reference, not only to any traditional poets for whom he may have felt peculiar sympathy, but also to the experimental poetry of the immediate past, toward which he undoubtedly felt great sympathy: Eliot, Yeats, Marianne Moore, Hart Crane, Pound, and in particular his associates of the Fugitive group, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, Merrill Moore. To name these poets as the general foundation of...
(The entire section is 5398 words.)
SOURCE: Ransom, John Crowe. “The Inklings of ‘Original Sin:’ Selected Poems 1923-43.” In Critical Essays on Robert Penn Warren, pp. 32-6. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co, 1981.
[In the following review of Selected Poems: 1923-1943, originally published in 1944, Ransom briefly appraises the poem “Aubade for Hope” and stresses Warren's theme of Original Sin, which the critic defines as “the betrayal of our original nature that we commit in the interest of our rational evolution and progress.”]
Of more than seasonal magnitude is the literary event which gives to the public the whole staple of Robert Penn Warren's poetry. For ten years my head has rung with magnificent phrases out of the five poems which he contributed to a Special Poetic Supplement in The American Review of March, 1934. I felt they must have made a great commotion (as I knew they had not) and established him at once as a ranking poet; they were so distinctive, those poems of twenty lines each, with their peculiar strain of horror, and their clean-cut eloquence and technical accomplishments. But evidently the rating of the poet waits upon the trial of his big book. The five poems are in the present book, and serve very well as its center, though some later ones may define a little better the special object of this poet's tragic sense.
For a text I will try the easiest of the five, “Aubade...
(The entire section is 2277 words.)
SOURCE: Matthiessen, F. O. Review of Selected Poems: 1923-1943. The Kenyon Review 6, no. 4 (Autumn 1944): 683-96.
[In the following excerpted review, Matthiessen observes the influence of seventeenth-century metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell evident in Warren's Selected Poems: 1923-1943, the dense suggestiveness of Eleven Poems on the Same Theme, and the dramatic tension of “The Ballad of Billie Potts.”]
Warren has published two previous books of poems (in 1935 and 1942), but these had a very restricted circulation; and he has generally been placed as a minor figure in the school of Ransom and Tate, and is thus dismissed by [Yvor] Winters. His Selected Poems: 1923-1943, by separating his late work from his earlier, mark where he started and how far he has come. “The Return: An Elegy,” eloquent as is its expression of undisseverable attraction and repulsion of a son for his mother, uses too many of Eliot's contrasts to be quite Warren's own. “Kentucky Mountain Farm” expresses the particular and local concern with history of the Southern agrarian group, and yet Warren's resolution, his renewed emphasis on the will, his declaration that “The act / Alone is pure” already carries his individual accent. The most striking poem in his first book, “The Garden,” shows what it meant to have begun writing poetry in the era when the 17th Century metaphysicals had just...
(The entire section is 1280 words.)
SOURCE: Fitts, Dudley. “Of Tragic Stature.” Poetry LXV, no. 11 (November 1944): 94-101.
[In the following review of Selected Poems: 1923-1943, Fitts comments on Marvellian traces in Warren's poetry, and on the near grotesque, tragicomic quality of “The Ballad of Billie Potts.”]
This selection of poems represents the work of twenty years, extending from the time of Robert Penn Warren's association with that brilliant group of Nashville poets who called themselves The Fugitives, down to the publication, last year, of the memorable “Ballad of Billie Potts.” I met this poetry early, thanks to the enthusiasm of another Fugitive, Merrill Moore, when it was still in the five-finger-exercise stage: accomplished verse, owing much to John Crowe Ransom (a debt which the younger Fugitives shared in common), “promising.” I remember that someone—was it William Knickerbocker?—called it “affectionate,” “chaste,” “athletic,” adjectives which he would probably want to qualify today. It was agreeable, certainly; and once in a while it struck a deeper tone premonitory of what was to come—see, for example, the last poem in this collection, “To a Face in a Crowd,” which was printed in The Fugitive in 1925. But in general it was not impressive, or more impressive than the average Fugitive product; only in its sensitive recording of the sights and sounds of the Southern...
(The entire section is 2064 words.)
SOURCE: Lowell, Robert. “Prose Genius in Verse.” The Kenyon Review XV, no. 4 (Autumn 1953): 619-25.
[In the following review of Brother to Dragons, Lowell confers stylistically qualified praise on Warren's “brutal, perverse melodrama” in blank verse.]
In spite of its Plutarchan decor, Brother to Dragons is a brutal, perverse melodrama that makes the flesh crawl. On a chopping block in a meat house in West Kentucky, “on the night of December 15, 1811—the night when the New Madrid earthquake first struck the Mississippi Valley—” Lilburn and Isham Lewis, nephews of Thomas Jefferson, in the presence of their Negroes, “butchered a slave named George, whose offense had been to break a pitcher prized by their dead mother, Lucy Lewis.” Coming upon this preface, the reader is warned that he will not find Monticello and Jefferson with his letters from John Adams, his barometers and portable music stands, but Lizzie Borden braining the family portraits with her axe. This incongruity, which dislocates nearly everyone's sense of Jeffersonian possibility, was fully appreciated by Thomas Jefferson himself, who, so far as we know, never permitted his nephews' accomplishment to be mentioned in conversation. Yet the Lewis brothers are as much in the Southern tradition as their Uncle, rather more in the literary tradition which has developed, and so it is workaday that their furies should...
(The entire section is 2565 words.)
SOURCE: Deutsch, Babette. “Poetry Chronicle.” The Yale Review 43, no. 2 (December 1953): 276-81.
[In the following excerpted review, Deutsch admires Brother to Dragons “as a whole and in its parts.”]
The kernel of Robert Penn Warren's “tale in verse and voices,” as Brother to Dragons is subtitled, is the brutal murder of a Negro slave by Lilburn Lewis, elder son of Thomas Jefferson's only sister. The crime was a matter of public knowledge and record, but was never referred to by the man who prided himself less on his presidency than on having been the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and having fathered the University of Virginia.
Warren tells the story of the murder in living dialogue, and explores not only the motives of the murderer in committing the act but also those of his great kinsman in seeming to ignore it. Blaming him for his silence, Warren accuses Jefferson of having set us on the road to moral ruin by trying to conceal from himself and his countrymen the evil that is inextricable from human deed and desire. The poem thus thrusts at us in harrowing form the problem that is as actual now as it was some fifteen centuries ago to Augustine, defending against Pelagius the doctrine of Original Sin, more familiar to us in the aspect of the id. By whatever name we call it, the problem of...
(The entire section is 686 words.)
SOURCE: Flint, F. Cudworth. “Search for a Meaning.” The Virginia Quarterly Review XXX, no. 1 (Winter 1954): 143-48.
[In the following review, Flint favorably assesses Warren's narrative poem Brother to Dragons.]
To a bluff in Livingston County in western Kentucky overlooking the Ohio river Dr. Charles Lewis, a planter and physician of Albemarle County, Virginia, early in the nineteenth century moved with his wife, Lucy Jefferson, sister of Thomas Jefferson, his grown sons Lilburn and Isham, and some slaves. Lucy soon died, and Dr. Lewis returned to Virginia, leaving his sons in Kentucky. On the night of December 15, 1811, just before the first of a series of earthquakes struck the Mississippi valley, Lilburn with the not quite whole-hearted assistance of Isham, in the presence of his other slaves, bound his slave George to a meat block and chopped his living body to pieces because the slave had broken a china pitcher much prized by Lilburn's dead mother. The murder becoming known, the brothers were tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hung. A suicide pact resulted in the death only of Lilburn and the escape of Isham, but the latter was credibly reported several years later to have perished in fighting the British at New Orleans. So much for historical fact, stated, with other details, in a prose Foreword to Mr. Warren's poem.
Mr. Warren has been meditating this story as a...
(The entire section is 1651 words.)
SOURCE: Dickey, James. “In the Presence of Anthologies.” The Sewanee Review LXVI, no. 2 (Spring 1958): 294-314.
[In the following excerpted review, Dickey highlights the intensity of Warren's poetry—despite its occasional unevenness—and its themes of self-definition, self-discovery, and self-determination.]
Opening a book of poems by Robert Penn Warren is like putting out the light of the sun, or like plunging into the labyrinth and feeling the thread break after the first corner is passed. One will never come out in the same Self as that in which one entered. When he is good, and often even when he is bad, you had as soon read Warren as live, a feeling you do not get from any of these others, expert as some of them are. Of all these poets, Warren is the only one to give you the sense of poetry as a thing of final importance to life: as a way or form of life. In his practise it is a tortured, painful, sometimes rhetorical means of exploring man's fate, often nearer to tragic melodrama than to tragedy, but never anything less than fully engaged in its problems, never inconsequential. Like any human poet, Warren has his failings: his are a liking for the overinflated, or “bombast” as Longinus defines it; he indulges frequently in examples of pathetic fallacy so outrageous that they should, certainly, become classic instances of the misuse of this device. Phrases like “the irrelevant...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
SOURCE: Wright, James. “The Stiff Smile of Mr. Warren.” In Robert Penn Warren: Critical Perspectives, edited by Neil Nakadate, pp. 262-9. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1981.
[In the following review, originally published in 1958, Wright calls Warren “unpredictable” as a poet and focuses on “distortions of language” in his collection Promises: Poems 1954-1956. The critic continues by analyzing “The Child Next Door,” viewing it as “a successful, though disturbing poem.”]
Although it is possible, generally speaking, to discover certain consistently developing themes in Mr. Warren's work—prose and verse alike—it is nevertheless impossible to know just what he will do next. In our own century he is perhaps the only American writer who, having already established his major importance, remains unpredictable. If anyone has noted any similarity between Mr. Warren and, say, Dickens, I should be surprised and delighted. But the two authors share the power—it is a very great power, and perhaps it is the heart of the poetic imagination—of unpredictability. A critic is right in being a little hesitant about such a writer. But how explain the neglect of Mr. Warren's poems when we compare it with the critical concern with his novels? I use the word “neglect” when I speak of the poems, simply because I have a hunch that they contain the best seedings and harvests of...
(The entire section is 3434 words.)
SOURCE: Martz, Louis L. “Recent Poetry.” The Yale Review 58, no. 4 (June 1969): 592-605.
[In the following excerpted review, Martz acknowledges Warren's “subtle and firm command of his own idiom,” while surveying the poetic works of Incarnations: Poems 1966-1968.]
It has now been fifteen years since Robert Penn Warren returned to lyric poetry in the writings of his volume Promises: Poems 1954-1956. His new volume, Incarnations, fulfills those promises. Warren has moved now into subtle and firm command of his own idiom, with an effect well-described by his chosen title. These poems incarnate, by movement of spoken words, by images of fruit and sea and city, a sense of spirit flowing through all existence, or as he puts it in one poem, a sense of “the furious energies of nature.” These are sequences with many settings: first, a Mediterranean island off the coast of France; next, the dismal setting of a Southern prison; then, in New York City, the scene of a pedestrian accident near old Penn Station; and lastly, a few poems set in the mysterious “Enclaves” of memory. What is most remarkable about these poems is their quiet deftness in weaving together a universe of sights and sounds within the mind of this sensitive speaker. In the opening sequence, memories of Phoenicians merge with a Nazi helmet found in the “island dump,” while from “the next island,” a rocket...
(The entire section is 914 words.)
SOURCE: Spears, Monroe K. “The Latest Poetry of Robert Penn Warren.” The Sewanee Review 78, no. 2 (April 1970): 348-57.
[In the following review, Spears notes the heightened personal reference of Poems: New and Old, 1923-1966 and explores the themes, imagery, and language of Incarnations.]
When Robert Penn Warren began writing poetry again in 1954, after the ten-year interval in which he wrote none except for the long “play for verse and voices”, Brother to Dragons, there was a very noticeable change. His new verse was far more open in texture and more explicitly personal in reference than the earlier. The change was plainly a response to the same pressures that caused numerous other poets to begin at about the same time to write the kind of poetry that has since been called “open” or “confessional” or “naked”. On the other hand, it is equally plain that the change was the end product of an internal development, an accentuation of tendencies present from the beginning. Even in the Fugitive days, Warren's poetry was marked by a candor and directness of address to the reader in which these recent trends were clearly latent.
The plan of Selected Poems makes this continuity evident: Warren begins the volume with his latest work, and arranges all his poetry in reverse chronological order. The poems written 1954-1966 occupy 216 pages of...
(The entire section is 3925 words.)
SOURCE: Yenser, Stephen. “Timepiece.” Poetry 128, no. 6 (September 1976): 349-54.
[In the following review, Yenser considers the enigmatic language, gritty tone, and thematic sweep of Warren's collection Or Else.]
Sometimes it is the way the tone changes and sometimes the way the syntax explicates itself and often the way the figures follow—but throughout his recent book Robert Penn Warren keeps the reader just off balance. The conclusion of the first poem, “The Nature of a Mirror” (which might have been subtitled And Vice Versa, it so neatly compacts the now proverbial dictum into a tautology), will exemplify a part of what I mean:
the sun, Beyond the western ridge of black-burnt pine stubs like A snaggery of rotten shark teeth, sinks Lower, larger, more blank, and redder than A mother's rage, as though F. D. R. had never run for office even, or the first vagina Had not had the texture of dream. Time
Is the mirror into which you stare.
Surely at a first reading of these lines most of us will find ourselves blinking, and perhaps thinking of those chain poems that go the rounds, as Warren slips from graphic image through what looks like surrealism to didactic abstraction. Yet it all...
(The entire section is 2319 words.)
SOURCE: McClatchy, J. D. “Rare Prosperities.” Poetry 131, no. 3 (December 1977): 169-75.
[In the following review of Selected Poems: 1923-1975, McClatchy surveys Warren's poetic career and lauds his poetry of the 1970s.]
Robert Penn Warren last made selection of his poetry just over a decade ago. Thirteen small poems have been further trimmed from that previous collection; the three books he has written since then, plus ten additional poems, have been added. Such a gathering would be valuable in any case, as a comprehensive survey of Warren's character and achievement as a poet. Certainly it is his poetry on which rests his claim to greatness, though a decade ago few would have predicted that with real confidence. After all, so much else about this artist was distracting. During the half-century of his career, his contributions to nearly every aspect of the literary art have been recognized, but his novels now seem more sturdy than significant, and his essays more feisty than definitive. But the poetry he has produced in the past ten years has altered our sense of his career and its consequence, so that this Selected Poems is not merely a useful book but a truly important one. Given Warren's odd habit of arranging his work in reverse chronological order, his new work allows us to see his earlier verse as both an anticipation and an echo, the effect of which is to throw his recent poetry...
(The entire section is 2828 words.)
SOURCE: Smith, Dave. “He Prayeth Best Who Loveth Best.” The American Poetry Review 8, no. 1 (January 1979): 4-8.
[In the following review, Smith centers on the moral vision of Warren's Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978 and of his earlier poetic collections.]
Robert Penn Warren is seventy-three. He has published his eleventh volume of poetry, this thirty-second book, and he has never written better. His first book, a biography of John Brown, appeared when he was twenty-four, in the year Faulkner published The Sound and the Fury and Hemingway A Farewell To Arms. With others he is known as the architect of New Criticism; his textbook, Understanding Poetry is one of the first stones in the foundation of contemporary American poetry. There is no genre in which his fierce and craggy and formidably human talent has not manifested itself. There are no awards in American letters which he has not won.
Why is it, then, that every recent review of Warren's poetry [he has published three collections in this decade] tells us how unrecognized as poet he is? Why are we all constrained to note he is recognized as novelist? I suspect the reasons have little to do with poetry and much to do with the business of America. The fact is that no living poet more deserves or receives the respect and admiration given to Mr. Warren. The publication of...
(The entire section is 4097 words.)
SOURCE: Lieberman, Laurence. “The Glacier's Offspring: A Reading of Robert Penn Warren's New Poetry.” The American Poetry Review 10, no. 2 (March 1981): 6-8.
[In the following review of Being Here: Poetry 1977-1980, Lieberman analyzes Warren's poem “Globe of Gneiss,” commenting on its experimental prosody and thematic grandeur.]
At seventy-five, Robert Penn Warren has lost none of his lifelong zest for strenuous nature hikes. In his new book of poems, Being Here, Warren's many excursions through woods, up hillside, across beach and rocky shoreline, run a gamut from sheer relish in the physical exertion—with lapses of muscle to explore a wealth of sensory perceptions—to profound meditations on the nature of Time and “Pure Being.” By a succession of happy accidents, Warren's cross-country rambles lead him to encounters with living or non-living beings that amazingly mirror a profile of the author himself. His incandescent moments of recognition of each of his secret kin in nature submerges him in trance (“I stopped … I stood … I stared,” “I gazed”); the noise and bustle of nature are frozen, momentarily (“no leaf may stir, nor a single blade twitch,” “no bird ever calls”); and his spirit soars into a dimension of pure silence and motionlessness, a haven outside time. He binds himself, steadfastly, to each of his accidental twins, and lingers in this...
(The entire section is 3190 words.)
SOURCE: Pritchard, William H. “Weighing the Verse.” Poetry 138, no. 2 (May 1981): 107-16.
[In the following excerpted review, Pritchard describes the verses of Being Here as “poetry of emotions … high-pitched and poignant.”]
In his introduction to the recent New Oxford Book of English Light Verse, Kingsley Amis refers at one point to the opposite of such verse and instead of opting for the demeaning “heavy” (Who would want to be known as a writer of heavy verse?) chooses the adjective “high.” Whatever one calls it, a prime contemporary example of unlight verse is the work of Robert Penn Warren. As was the case with respect to his last volume (Now and Then, 1978) nobody goes on about Mr. Warren for very long without reaching for the word “powerful.” Harold Bloom, who has been touting Warren's later poetry as America's central contemporary instance of the High Romantic Sublime (Bloom touts the Sublime generally) finds it “deeply moving.” But what is there to be said about an ordinary reader's experience of this powerful, sublime, deeply moving voice, varying little from poem to poem, speaking always as if propelled by some elemental force which throws up memories and scenes from the past and is never at a loss for words to describe them?
Since it is an excellent idea to be on the alert whenever one is placed in the neighborhood of something...
(The entire section is 844 words.)
SOURCE: Bohner, Charles. “The Texture of the World.” In Robert Penn Warren, pp. 28-45. Revised Edition. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.
[In the following essay, Bohner summarizes thematic and stylistic developments in Warren's poetry of 1923 to 1944.]
In the spring of 1943 Robert Penn Warren published in the Kenyon Review an essay entitled “Pure and Impure Poetry” which has since taken its place among the major texts of modern criticism. Warren himself evidently believed the essay constituted an important personal statement, for he subsequently placed it first in his Selected Essays (1958). Since the essay appeared while he was preparing his Selected Poems, 1923-1943 for the press, he was perhaps prompted to speculate on the nature of poetry by looking back on two decades of his own practice of the art.
I POETIC BEGINNINGS
“Poetry,” Warren begins, “wants to be pure but poems do not.” The poet writing the pure poem is, like the laboratory scientist, working under carefully controlled conditions to extract the emotion pure and undefiled. The pure poem is the distillate, the emotion purged of the dross of ambiguity. Warren insists, however, that the poem must have its being not in the aseptic laboratory but in the world. Consequently, the poem must, like life itself, partake of impurities: “cacophonies, jagged rhythms, ugly...
(The entire section is 6895 words.)
SOURCE: Spears, Monroe K. “Robert Penn Warren: A Hardy American.” The Sewanee Review 91, no. 4 (Fall 1983): 655-64.
[In the following essay, Spears remarks on Warren's poetry and critical accounts of Warren's work published in the early 1980s.]
An American Hardy? Not exactly. Though we have not had such a prolonged late flowering of a poet since Thomas Hardy's (which lasted until his eighty-eighth year), and though Warren's poetry resembles Hardy's in many ways—perhaps most in the religious attitude of yearning unbelief coupled with grim irony and the metrical virtuosity based on stretching traditional forms—Warren is obviously not merely an American version of Hardy. He is unique, original, and, for me at least, a far more profound, moving, and satisfying poet than Hardy. At the risk of being thought a precious paronomasiac, I have therefore shifted the word order in my title so as to stress Warren's hardiness and hardihood. He is strong and durable, a tough-minded survivor who never shirks a full look at the worst. And he is supremely American, immersed as he is in American history and feeling a personal responsibility for older American literature (reviving Melville's and Whittier's poetry, Dreiser's novels) and for the state of the Republic (a concern shown not only in his poetry but in his prose studies of the Civil War, of segregation, and of Jefferson Davis). That Warren's character...
(The entire section is 4229 words.)
SOURCE: Strandberg, Victor. “Image and Persona in Warren's ‘Early’ Poetry.” Mississippi Quarterly 37, no. 2 (Spring 1984): 135-48.
[In the following essay, Strandberg studies the relationship between Warren's early poetic themes—“the fall from innocence, the search for the lost self, and the redeeming pantheistic insight”—and his use of natural imagery.]
In looking at Warren's early poetry, including his manuscripts on deposit at Yale, one could easily become distracted by a (Harold) Bloomesque anxiety-of-influence perspective. T. S. Eliot's style, imagery, and structuring methods leave tell-tale traces throughout “Kentucky Mountain Farm” and “The Return: An Elegy,” for example, and Hart Crane's influence (possibly via Allen Tate) is implicit in a thirty-eight-line poem by Warren, never published, entitled “Farewell of Faustus to Helen.” And Warren's mentor John Crowe Ransom is of course a presence behind many poems of that formative period, making himself felt in the rhyming quatrain form, in the elegiac irony of tone, and in the mixture of professorial learnedness and regional folklore that both Warren and Ransom favored.
Yet, interesting as these influences are, I find the opposite perspective much more interesting: it is the gradual emergence of Warren's original poetic vision and virtuosity that gives his early poetry its ultimate value. From this...
(The entire section is 4760 words.)
SOURCE: Justus, James H. “Warren's Later Poetry: Unverified Rumors of Wisdom.” Mississippi Quarterly 37, no. 2 (Spring 1984): 161-72.
[In the following essay, Justus details the searching and questioning quality of Warren's nostalgic poems in Being Here, Now and Then, and Rumor Verified.]
Our customary expectation when we read the work of an older poet is that it will be declarative—in effect a summing up, a smoothing out, a papering over, if you will, of the characteristic concerns that have compulsively and ambivalently engaged him for so many years. What is wanted, in the genial conspiracy of poet and reader, is a rounded-off final vision, affirmative if possible, that will justify the long labor of a high and passionate calling. What we expect, in short, is wisdom literature. This is the phenomenon of Wordsworth and, in our own more difficult century when such attempts go mostly begging, Auden. But it is not the phenomenon of Robert Penn Warren.
It is of course a fair matter for dispute to declare a year or a title as the aesthetic onset of the autumnal phase of any poet, but in terms of the descriptive, the chronological, no one can deny that the poems from the mid-1970s onward belong firmly to Warren's autumnal phase. However we eventually regard Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce (1983), that quietly understated epic, and “New Dawn” (1983), the prefatory...
(The entire section is 3865 words.)
SOURCE: Watkins, Floyd C. “A National Poet.” Mississippi Quarterly 37, no. 2 (Spring 1984): 173-78.
[In the following essay, Watkins summarizes Warren's poetry on American subjects and emphasizes Warren's depiction of the human capacity for evil in Brother to Dragons.]
In a period of about four decades Robert Penn Warren has written poems about America and its history which are unmatched by the work of any other poet in quality and scope. He has created events, periods, and personages with a range from 1776 to 1976. Even in the unity of themes and methods, there is a considerable diversity of subjects and people who derive from the typical, the folk, and the historical. Many characters are based on actual Americans. Public history of one sort or another provides approximately a dozen central narratives. Persons in the daily news, some members of Warren's family, and boyhood friends in Kentucky assume significant roles and provide a background of figures with something close to anonymity but also representative national importance.
In major works Warren recreates Thomas Jefferson (here more a philosopher than a President), Jean Jacques Audubon (whom Warren sees as frontier adventurer as well as artist), and Chief Joseph (an Indian statesman betrayed by whites as well as the course of historical events). Poems depict peculiarly American events, folk characters (the Potts...
(The entire section is 1336 words.)
SOURCE: Balla, Philip. “‘A Dance on the High Wire over an Abyss’.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 12, no. 1 (Fall-Winter 1984): 267-80.
[In the following review, Balla suggests that Warren's collection Rumor Verified is unfocused and overly “genteel,” but describes the dramatic poem Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce as possibly Warren's finest.]
Poets can't really take credit for too many of their own observations. They pick them up, somewhat the way the rest of us pedestrians pick up things on the bottom of our shoes. Robert Penn Warren in a 1957 Paris Review interview described poetry as “a dance on the high wire over an abyss.” A lovely image, but the dean of American poets probably just picked it up somewhere. The inspiration may have had some respectably genteel source because, as any of his numerous author's credits will testify, Robert Penn Warren by his prizes, awards, and honors very much belongs to America's literary establishment. His publisher lists all these accruing accomplishments from new book to new book, but in spite of all this Warren is still very much a country boy. He could just as easily have corralled his definition of poetry in some good redneck bar where, in the sauce a little, he found himself obliged to describe a bit of what he did to his flannel-shirted, whiskered, whiskeyed companions.
This particular country boy was born in...
(The entire section is 5085 words.)
SOURCE: Bedient, Calvin. “His Grand Last Phase.” In In the Heart's Last Kingdom: Robert Penn Warren's Major Poetry, pp. 1-21. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.
[In the following essay, Bedient speaks of Warren's transition to poetic greatness with the publication of Audubon: A Vision.]
Nothing in Robert Penn Warren's long career as a man of letters has so distinguished it as has the final act, which opened in the late sixties, when he himself had entered his sixties (he was born in Guthrie, Kentucky, in 1905). His greatness as a writer began with his determination to concentrate on poetry as the extreme resource of language-knowledge, language-being—began with Audubon: A Vision (1969), forty-six years after he started publishing poems as a student prodigy at Vanderbilt, under the tutelage of (among others) John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate. What seized him then was a heroic effort to present himself as a man whose passion for the adventure of living is his sole, his imposing identity and glory. (One might say he had finally recognized, without shrinking from, his passion for passion.) Just as he had with Audubon, he created a type out of himself, acting out a demand for knowledge of himself and the world, performing a hunger for consummate meaning and distinction (a nobility and glory based on reverence for distinctions and exemplifying the quality), while recognizing,...
(The entire section is 7335 words.)
SOURCE: Bloom, Harold. “Sunset Hawk: Warren’s Poetry and Tradition.” In A Southern Renascence Man: Views of Robert Penn Warren, edited by Walter B. Edgar, pp. 59-79. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.
[In the following essay, Bloom probes Warren's place within, and development of, the American poetic tradition.]
The beginning is like a god which as long as it dwells among men saves all things.
—Plato, Laws 775
Where can an authentic poet begin again, when clearly the past has ceased to throw its illumination upon the future? Robert Penn Warren's poetry spans nearly sixty years, from “Pondy Woods” to his long poem upon Chief Joseph, against whom the United States fought its last serious Indian war. No final perspective is possible upon a strong poet whose own wars are far from over. I have been reading Warren's poetry for thirty years, since I first came to Yale, but only in the second half of that period have I read him with the deep absorption that his poetry demands and rewards. Before the publication of Incarnations: Poems 1966-1968, I would have based my judgment of Warren's aesthetic eminence primarily upon his most ambitious novels, All the King's Men and World Enough and Time. The poetry seemed distinguished, yet overshadowed by Eliot, and perhaps of less intrinsic...
(The entire section is 6429 words.)
SOURCE: Bloom, Harold. “The Flight of the Hawk.” The New York Review of Books 32, no. 9 (May 30, 1985): 40-42.
[In the following review, Bloom surveys Warren's life and literary career, concentrating on later developments in his poetry as reflected in New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985.]
Robert Penn Warren, born April 24, 1905, in Guthrie, Kentucky, is at the age of eighty our most eminent man of letters. His position is the more remarkable for the extraordinary persistence with which he has made himself into a superb poet. A reader thinks of the handful of poets who wrote great poetry late in life: Browning, Hardy, Yeats, Stevens, Warren. Indeed, “Myth of Mountain Sunrise,” the final poem among the new work in this fifth Warren Selected Poems, will remind some readers of Browning's marvelous “Prologue” to Asolando, written when the poet was seventy-seven. Thinking back fifty years to the first time he saw Asolo, a village near Venice, Browning burns through the sense of loss to a final transcendence:
How many a year, my Asolo, Since—one step just from sea to land— I found you, loved yet feared you so— For natural objects seemed to stand Palpably fire-clothed! No—
“God is it who transcends,” Browning ends by asserting. Warren, older even than Browning was, also ruggedly remains a...
(The entire section is 4229 words.)
SOURCE: Stitt, Peter. “Tradition and the Innovative Godzilla.” The Georgia Review 39 (Fall 1985): 635-48.
[In the following excerpted review, Stitt responds to Harold Bloom's assessment of Warren and his New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985. Stitt goes on to call Warren “the most important American poet of the second half of the twentieth century,” while lamenting the exclusions from his latest poetic collection.]
Robert Penn Warren's New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985, especially when considered along with Harold Bloom's review of it in The New York Review of Books, raises a couple of important issues. The one of these that concerns the book specifically as a selection of a lifetime's work I will reserve until the end of my discussion. For now I would like to consider a fundamental issue about Warren's thinking and, in the process, air my disagreement with Professor Bloom, who insists upon divorcing Warren from the great tradition of American transcendentalism. In his review, Bloom discusses Warren as a moralist “who forgives himself nothing,” an ironist who “nevertheless so loves the world that he will forgive it nothing,” and “like Eliot, … an idealogue” whose “temperament is far more ferocious than Eliot's.” These three aspects of Warren's work are so closely related as to be one; in Bloom's eyes, Warren is a fierce moralist committed to a vision of abiding...
(The entire section is 2043 words.)
SOURCE: Smith, Dave. Review of New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985. Poetry 147, no. 1 (October 1985): 46-48.
[In the following review of Warren's New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985, Smith focuses on the new poems in this collection, collectively called “Altitudes and Extensions,” which he says “oscillate between prosy speculation and lyrical exultation.”]
Robert Penn Warren's fourth selected poems, New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985, appears exactly a decade after the third selected, a period in which many have ceased to think of him as novelist, critic, or Southern man of letters. Now he is widely admired for the poetry of his last twenty years. These poems attract as tales of yearning for and searches after what he has called “the human scheme of values,” perhaps especially because life has often seemed pointless. He has labored to make felt the large, daily, always inscrutable forces of Time, Place, Community, Self, Family, Death, and History, believing the individual might know and express the grand design. A speculator, then, his outlook has been consistently grim, his opinion of man suspicious, and his course unequivocally ethical. But he has rarely become a poetic preacher. He distrusts one-answer systems, whether religion, politics, or aesthetics. His effort has been to portray the responsible man. In Audubon: A Vision, his finest poem, he dramatizes such a man...
(The entire section is 1098 words.)
SOURCE: Stitt, Peter. “Interview with Robert Penn Warren.” In The World's Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets, pp. 241-58. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1985.
[In the following interview, conducted in 1977, Warren discusses his formative influences, his association with the Fugitive group, the means and development of his poetic composition, and the nature of his perception of the world as a poet.]
[Stitt:] You entered Vanderbilt at an early age, which leads me to think that you grew up in a home where the life of the mind was fully lived. Is that so?
[Warren:] Well, both my father and my maternal grandfather had books everywhere. I've got a lot of my father's books right over there. I recently reread Cooper for the first time since I was a boy, using my father's copies. And each book had the date he finished reading it—1890, 1891, and so on. I spent my boyhood summers with my grandfather on a tobacco farm—he was an old man then. His children used to say, “Poppa,” as they called him, “is an inveterate reader”—I thought they meant Confederate—“and he is a visionary.” He read poetry and quoted it by the yard. He was wonderful, an idol. His place was very remote and he allowed nobody on it except our family—he was totally cut off from the rest of the world. For one thing, it just didn't interest him. I mean, he read books all the...
(The entire section is 8729 words.)
SOURCE: Strandberg, Victor. “Poet of Youth: Robert Penn Warren at Eighty.” In Time's Glory: Original Essays on Robert Penn Warren, edited by James A. Grimshaw, Jr., pp. 91-106. Conway: University of Central Arkansas Press, 1986.
[In the following essay, Strandberg traces enduring themes and images from Warren's poetic career illustrated in the “Altitudes and Extensions” pieces of his New and Selected Poems: 1923-1985.]
The publication of “Altitudes and Extensions” on Robert Penn Warren's eightieth birthday—April 24, 1985—invites the “Poet of Youth” designation on three grounds.1 First, as though to prove his contention that a man has all the images he will ever need by age twenty, Warren continues to write extensively about his boyhood throughout the poetry of his septuagenarian years. Second, he continues in this latest volume to explore and develop the themes he first adumbrated fifty to sixty years ago, as though these last poems were designed to fulfill the prophecy implicit in his definition of the image in All the King's Men:
We get very few of the true images in our heads of the kind I am talking about, the kind which become more and more vivid for us as if the passage of the years did not obscure their reality but, year by year, drew off another veil to expose a meaning which we had only dimly surmised at first....
(The entire section is 5839 words.)
SOURCE: Zawacki, Andrew. “Retro Values, Radical Voice.” The Times Literary Supplement 350, no. 5011 (April 16, 1999): 30.
[In the following review of The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, Zawacki briefly encapsulates Warren's poetic accomplishments and his literary status at the end of the twentieth century.]
The problem of knowledge has defined the major poetries of the past century. While contemporary thought is witnessing so many catch-phrase exhaustions—the end of history, of ideology, of the aesthetic—Robert Penn Warren (1905-89) invigorated six decades with his investigations into the origins of knowledge and its erratic trajectory towards or away from a realization in truth. “What is love?” he asked in Audubon: A Vision (1969): “One name for it is knowledge.” Jean Jacques Audubon was Warren's most compelling avatar because of the legendary Dauphin's preoccupation with both self-knowledge and a scientific understanding of the world. Warren imagined Audubon cataloguing birds with precision even as he “did not know / What he was. Thought: ‘I do not know my own name’.” Warren continually explored this inability to name the self, its source and ultimate dissolution, articulating epistemological predicaments as early as “Problem of Knowledge” from Thirty-Six Poems (1935):
What years, what hours, has spider contemplation spun Her film...
(The entire section is 1316 words.)
Watkins, Floyd C. “A Dialogue with Robert Penn Warren on Brother to Dragons.” Southern Review 16, no. 1 (Winter 1980): 1-17.
Discussion centering on Warren's background ideas and method of composition for the narrative poem Brother to Dragons.
———and John T. Hiers, eds. Robert Penn Warren Talking: Interviews 1950-1978. New York: Random House, 1980, 304p.
Reprints transcripts of eighteen conversations with Warren conducted by various interviewers.
Bromwich, David. Review of Selected Poems: 1923-1975. Hudson Review 30, no. 2 (Summer 1977): 279-92.
Maintains that Warren has steadily become a better poet since the publication of Promises in 1956, acknowledging that he continues to produce both impressive and uneven verse.
Chamberlin, J. E. Review of Or Else: Poem/Poems 1968-1974. Hudson Review 28, no. 1 (Spring 1975): 119-35.
Observes the “wondering” quality of Warren's poetry and his distinct evocation of “the baroque ironies of Time.”
Clark, William Bedford, ed. Critical Essays on Robert Penn Warren. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1981, 239p.
Contains reviews, an interview, and studies of Warren's poetry...
(The entire section is 854 words.)