Showing posts with label Robert Penn Warren. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert Penn Warren. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Image result for all the king's menDuring a dry spell of compelling new authors to read, I ventured a re-acquaintance with Robert Penn Warren's "All The King's Men" and enjoyed nearly as much as when I first came across it during a course while in college. I was familiar with  Warren as a poet and critic of the Fugitive Group, and I was never convinced even as an impressionable, nee gullible romantic by his attempts to persuade his readers that what we need is a return to an agrarian economy and all the values and virtues that come with it.  This was a return-to-Eden move that will spring up occasionally in the History of literary thought, which seemed less an inspiration to improve life or make lives more authentic through action than it was to dodge the issue about the hard labor of living according to principles based on measurable action; its easier to talk the revolution into being than to hand out a leaflet. As such, I'm too much of a city kid, and even as a whelp thought that Warren's idealization of an old southern moral superiority to be soft at the center, not what I think poetry in the 20th century needs to be. Even then, the Fall-From-Grace idea creaked like a rusty hinge. However, there was some fine writ objections to how matters are unfolding in a Modern Word that is more interested in creating bold futures rather than adhering to the wisdom from History's string of bitter lessons. Going to a Catholic School for a few years, with daily catechism and mass, will burn ideas into your head and, with luck, make you leery of them when they recur later in life with only a few alterations. Life in the city, even the idealized downtowns of my imagination, was better than pouching the back forty, feeding the chickens, let alone waking up before sunrise to participate in a life that was loathsome to dwell on. Warren's poems to those virtues were lost on me; there was static where he intended the music to be heard. He was a better novelist, and "All the King's Men" is a masterpiece on several counts, but the center attraction is Willie Stark, Warrens's fictional depiction of Huey Long. Big, blustering, swaggering, a loud and dynamic presence of sheer Will-Too-Power, a character who speaks of serving the people in direct and personal ways and swears to fight big-ticket cheaters and scoundrels on their behalf, but who is seduced not by the passion for justice than by the accumulation of power for its own sake. The novel becomes a tragedy, a loud, tawdry, intensely observed tragedy as Stark declines and dies pathetically, and nothing and no one in his wake are changed for the better. Matters by the novel's conclusion seem as though they will only get worse for some time to come, which is part of the price humans pay for giving over their own obligations to work as a community to serve a charismatic has stolen their birthright to self-governance. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Robert Penn Warren embraces his limitations

I came across a poem by Robert Penn Warren today, a writer I've read very little of since college; I was missing the voice of a teffific American poet. The poem was "To A Face in the Crowd".

This is a good selection from the cogent Robert Penn Warren, who was always leagues ahead of his rhyming peers in having the disciplining techniques work under his lines; with many a twentieth century poet unwilling to give up the ghost of rhyme, the effect was more special effects than expression. It sounded unnatural, at odds with a contemporary sensibility  who's collective idea of  poetic value wasn't in the martial law organization of words and their sound alike twins, but instead found the music in a vernacular , looser limbed speech. This is the sensibility I developed since I swapped out Bob Dylan for TS Eliot decades ago.

Warren, though, has a verbal since,a "flow", that wants to deliver the idea from murky origin somewhere in the rapidly firing imagination and the final , crystalized expression. There is no padding in this poem; it has a lean quality that brings out the emotional quality, the weariness of the speaker who is dually giving warning of one's idea of what one may accomplish in the world and the the bemoaning of a personal history of lessons learned the hard way.

....That shore of your decision 
Awaits beyond this street where in the crowd
Your face is blown, an apparition, past.
Renounce the night as I, and we must meet
As weary nomads in this desert at last,
Borne in the lost procession of these feet.

Warren speaks of , I think, along the lines of a cliche often attributed to John Lennon, as in "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." This is the theme I find in much poetry that appeals to me, the major or minor revelation that the author's scheme of things, his abstractions as to how the world functions and how he or she was going to navigate the currents they thought predictable and manageable, are themselves a comfortable fiction imposed on a phenomenon that is hard, unyielding to individual expenditures of will power. Warren says here that at the end of it all we all meet not as brothers and sisters victorious in transforming  history (in significant but more often trivial matters) but rather as veterans of the daily grind who have endured and survived daily rigors for no reason other than they had to. At this point, speaking to the moment of waking up from one's dream, one might finally make use of their imagination as it engages the world as it reveals itself, moment to moment. This is the point when life gets interesting.