Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Warren was concerned in much of his early poetry with the loss of innocence and with the acquisition of self-knowledge in a world of historical contingency where perfect knowledge and an Edenic sense of unity—of oneness between the self and the world—do not exist but are vaguely recalled. He said in “Knowledge and The Image of Man” (1955) that humankind’s very process of self-definition is “the discovery of separateness” but that it moves beyond this state: “Man eats of the tree of life and falls. But if he takes another bite, he may get at least a sort of redemption.” To “take another bite” is to accept fully humankind’s fallen state and to undertake the process of making meaning and knowledge through the perpetual oscillation between the states that Warren calls “doing” and “seeing.” Each modifies the other; doing changes what a person is and how he or she sees, thus changing what will be seen, what will be done, and other actions and reactions. To be fixed in the state of seeing or of doing is to suffer the extinction of identity—to become either a chain of acts without the form of identity or an outline of identity lacking acts to give it substance.

In “Bearded Oaks,” the poetic self rests in a state of seeing, having withdrawn from the world of light and of making and doing. The suspended state of seeing is not Edenic. The poet, after all, is separate from his love; they are both constructs of history, and...

(The entire section is 466 words.)