Warren’s “Uncollected Poems 1943- 1989”

My favorite poem in Warren's "Uncollected Poems 1943- 1989" is actually "Bicentennial," a 12 page poem that ends with a celebration of the freedoms the founding fathers have given us: "Even so, we should not forget the virtues of the old ones who/ Backs to a dark continent, stood and set us free from tyranny" Of course, he follows these inspirational lines with the chilling reminder that we have not done much with this freedom: "They did not get around to setting us free from ourselves." Unfortunately, at the moment I have neither the patience nor the determination needed to discuss that poem in any depth.

That said, though, I'm also quite fond of "Lord Jesus, I Wonder," a sobering, ironic poem that manages to capture Warren's spiritual ambivalence:

LORD JESUS, I WONDER

Lord Jesus, I wonder if I would recognize you
On the corner of Broadway and Forty-Second-

Just one more glaze-eyed, yammering bum, nobody to listen
But the halt and maimed. My legs are good.

Yet sometimes I've thought of you, sandaled on sand,
Or stub-toed in gravel, dried blood black on a toe-nail,

And you seemed to look beyond traffic, then back with an innocent
Smile, to ask a revealing question

To which I could find no answer. But I suddenly smell
The sweat-putrid mob crowding closer, in pain and emptiness, ready

To believe anything-ignorant bastards. I envy them. Except
Their diseases, of course. For my head roars

With information, true or false, till I feel like weeping
At the garish idiocy of a Sunday School card. At fourteen,

I was arrogantly wrapped up in Darwin, but felt, sometimes,
Despair because I could not love God, nor even know his address.

How about this? God, c/o Heaven-Special Delivery? Well,
The letter was returned: Addressee Unknown. So

I laughed till I vomited. Then laughed again, this time
At the wonder of the world, from dawn to dark, and all

Night long, while stars spoke wisdom in battalions of brilliance.
Sometimes, since then, I have, face up, walked a night road,

Still adolescent enough to seek words for what was in my heart,
Or gut. But words, I at last decided, are their own truth.

There is no use to continue this conversation. We all
Know that. But, for God's sake, look the next blind man you meet

Straight in the eye. Do not flinch at prune-shriveled socket, or
Blurred eyeball. Not that you have

The gift of healing. You will not heal him, but
You may do something to heal something within yourself.

I, too, have sometimes wondered, like many people I suspect, if I would recognize a Savior if I saw him preaching on the streets. Or would I, like Warren, see him as just another charlatan telling ignorant people what they want to hear? Would I consider myself too "wise" to listen to some street-corner preacher and miss the opportunity for real salvation?

Perhaps it is a sense or intellectual superiority that makes it difficult to blindly believe everything your told in church. Certainly rational thought, in this case symbolized by Darwin, makes it difficult to accept the concept of God. Unfortunately, that rationality doesn't prevent you from feeling a sense of despair at having to make all your own choices in life. Even those incapable of believing in a traditional God often find themselves wanting to believe in Him.

No matter how intelligent we think we are, though, it's difficult to experience the wonders of the universe without believing in our heart that there is something there beyond us. That magical universe is represented by the stars in this poem as it is in several of Warren's poems.

Doubter though he may be, Warren still seems to have absorbed and accepted Christ's message to us, for his advice to "look the next blind man you meet/ Straight in the eye" seems to suggest the kind of Christian compassion, empathy, that one should expect from a Christian, not because it will help the blind person but because it may heal something within yourself.

There is something within us that needs a compassionate, forgiving God, even if, in the end, we must gain that compassion from truly looking each other in the eyes and seeing our condition for what it is.

Warren’s “Altitudes and Extensions: 1980 – 1984”

"Altitudes and Extensions: 1980 "1984" were the last poems published during Robert Penn Warren's lifetime. Regretfully, I did not find as many poems I liked in this section as in those published during the 60's and 70's, but perhaps that is merely because I have been reading so much Warren lately, 584 pages so far, with another thirty to forty pages to go today and tomorrow. I'm afraid it's difficult to read that many pages in a row without becoming somewhat jaded.

Truthfully, though, I'm looking forward to starting Stanley Kunitz's Collected Poems next week. Hopefully it won't drag out nearly as long as it took me to finish Warren's poems. Luckily, I'm not planning another move in the midst of this book.

That caveat delivered, my favorite poem in this section was:

Mortal Limit

I saw the hawk ride updraft in the sunset over Wyoming.
It rose from coniferous darkness, past gray jags
Of mercilessness, past whiteness, into the gloaming
Of dream-spectral light above the last purity of snow-snags.

There " west -- were the Tetons. Snow-peaks would soon be
In dark profile to break constellations. Beyond what height
Hangs now the black speck? Beyond what range will gold eyes see
New ranges rise to mark a last scrawl of light?

Or, having tasted that atmosphere's thinness, does it
Hang motionless in dying vision before
It knows it will accept the mortal limit,
And swing into the great circular downwardness that will restore

The breath of earth? Of rock? Of rot? Of other such
Items, and the darkness of whatever dream we clutch?

Perhaps I like this poem because the hawk is a reoccurring image in Warren's poems, perhaps because the poem in many ways serves as a summary of Warren's vision.

Even in these last poems there are images of transcendence, of hope:

Since my idiot childhood the world has been
Trying to tell me something. There is something
Hidden in the dark. The bear
Was trying to enter the darkness of wisdom.

and in describing a sighting of a bull elk:

" I had never seen
A bull wapiti, wild before " the
Great head lifted in philosophic
Arrogance against
God's own sky.

Invariably, though, these images are balanced against images of despair and doubt.

"Mortal Limit" with its image of the hawk appearing to soar higher than the Tetons themselves seems to describe Warren's aspirations. The human soul must have such aspirations if it is to truly soar. In the end, though, the poet cannot escape the conclusion that even the hawk must accept "the mortal limit," that in end we must all accept the "downwardness" that inevitably brings "rot," and "the darkness of whatever dream we clutch."

Warren’s “Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce”

I must admit I was not particularly looking forward to reading Warren's "Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce" because, as I've admitted before, I'm not particularly fond of long, extended poems where all too often it seems to me that the poetic form gets in the way of the story. (Of course, it might be argued that I have a limited attention span.) Neither am I overly fond of fictional "historical" works where modern authors find ways of putting their ideas into the mouths of historical personages. (Pretty soon you have a hard time telling the difference between truth and fiction, don't you? And it's already too damn hard to tell the difference, as far as I'm concerned.)

Perhaps it speaks to the merit of this long poem, then, that I found it particularly compelling, though, admitedly, that may be because my prejudices in this case so neatly dovetailed with Warren's own views of Chief Joseph.

Living in the Northwest, I've long been acquainted with the story of Chief Joseph, and it has long struck me as one of those great injustices, like the Trail of Tears, that Americans, at best, gloss over, or, at worst, distort into some kind of great Army victory rather than admit that it is proof that even America great injustices have often been done to minorities.

The poem is prefaced by a page-long note which briefly summarizes the story of Chief Joseph, ending with the line, "The physician of Colville, somewhat unscientifically, filed the report that the chief had died of a broken heart." That hook, caught me, and I was on Warren's side the rest of the way.

I am particularly fond of the way Warren works actual quotations into his poem, adding perspective to both his poem and the historical events. Warren's portrayal of Joseph's thoughts:

My father held my hand, and he died.
Dying, said: 'Think always of your country.
Your father has never sold your country.

Has never touched white-man money that they
Should say they have bought the land you now stand on.
You must never sell the bones of your fathers-
For selling that, you sell your Heart-Being.'
"

Is followed by:

I think it a great mistake to take from Joseph and his band of Nez Perces Indians that valley [Wallowa]. General 0. 0. Howard

A historical way of affirming Warren's interpretation of history and Joseph's thoughts.

Often a particularly poetic interpretation of Joseph's inner thoughts:

"But then, my heart, it heard
My father's voice, like a great sky-cry
From snow-peaks in sunlight, and my voice
Was saying the Truth that no
White man can know, how the Great Spirit
Had made the earth but had drawn no lines
Of separation upon it, and all
Must remain as He made, for to each man
Earth is the Mother and Nurse, and to that spot
Where he was nursed, he must,
In love, cling."

Will be followed by an actual translation of Chief Joseph's speech:

The earth, my mother and nurse, is very sacred to me: too sacred to be valued, or sold for gold or for silver ... and my bands have suffered wrong rather than done wrong. Chief Joseph to the Commissioners of 1876

Which allows the reader to simultaneously experience the poet's interpretation and the translator's interpretation of Chief Joseph's thoughts.

This same technique alllows us to see the subtle, and not-so-subtle, lies that creep into historical "intrepetation" as Warren's interpretation of the battle:

Like the buffalo herd stampeded at cliff-edge
The sands redder go. Like old women, some soldiers
Lose mounts. Flee on foot.
In blind corners die.
All flee. Miles we chase them. Coats, weapons, we take.
Scalps never. We touch not the locks of the honored dead.
Now rifles we have, sixty-three by our count.
Now braves-hide their bows. Now rifles they have!
And pistols. Ai, the white friend is kind!"

is followed by "historical" markers at the site of the actual battle:

Before you ... lies the historic battle ground of the Nez Perce Indian War in which 34 men gave their lives in service for their country. Marker on White Bird Battlefield

Of course, retelling the story from the poet's perspective rather than just from historical documents gives him the freedom to set the reader up by offering one perspective of the battle:

"Near dawn they struck us, new horse-soldiers. Shot
Into tepees. Women, children, old died.
Some mothers might stand in the river's cold coil
And hold up the infant and weep, and cry mercy.
What heart beneath blue coat has fruited in mercy?
When the slug plugged her bosom, unfooting her
To the current's swirl and last darkness, what last
Did she hear? It was laughter.

followed by a later insight when the Nez Perce regroup and revenge their loses:

"Few laughed as naked they lay there. Our own hearts
Were swollen with rage, but rage like great joy.
And gratefulness. The Chief-in-the-Sky-
He had seen our need. He smiled on us.
He said: 'Know now you are men. Be men!'

Of course, readers who limit themselves to traditional history textbooks, or apparently historical markers, would never see the battle from this perspective.

Warren is also able to point out some truly historical ironies in his narrative retelling of history. After focusing on Miles' egotistical attempts to gain fame in his battle with Chief Joseph, it is he who ends up defending him:

Only one man, with an uneasy conscience, might
Speak out the truth, and the truth be heard,
And was it integrity, or some
Sad division of self, torn in ambition
And ambition's price, that at last made Miles
The only staunch friend of Joseph for all
The years? In his rising success, did something make Miles
Wonder what was the price of a star?

Of course, it was Miles that made the promises, promises that were never kept to Chief Joseph that finally convinced Joseph to surrender rather than to fight on against hopeless odds.

The greatest irony of all, though, came much later in Joseph's life after he had been honored, though the pledges to him had never been so honored:

Great honor came, for it came to pass
That to praise the red man was the way
Best adapted to expunge all, all, in the mist
Of bloodless myth. And in the predictably obscene
Procession to dedicate Grant's Tomb, which grandeur
Was now to hold the poor, noble dust of Appomattox,
Joseph, whose people had never taken
A scalp, rode beside Buffalo Bill-

Who had once sent his wife a yet-warm scalp
He himself had sliced from the pate
Of a red man who'd missed him. Joseph rode
Beside Buffalo Bill, who broke clay pigeons-
One-two-three-four-five---just like that.

Joseph rode by the clown, the magician who could transform
For howling patriots, or royalty,
The blood of history into red ketchup,
A favorite American condiment. By his side
Joseph rode. Did Joseph know
Of the bloody scalp in love's envelope, know
That the dead Grant had once, in the White House,
In his own hand, certified the land
Of the Winding Waters to Joseph's people-
"Forever"-until some western politico, or such,
Jerked him by the nose, like a bull with a brass
Ring there for control?

Buffalo Bill, whose Wild West Shows somehow symbolize the West that never was, stands as a startling contrast to Chief Joseph, who symbolizes the price that's always been paid for conquest. Warren, of course, sees Chief Joseph as a real hero while Buffalo Bill is nothing more than a "clown" who could transform the blood of tragedy into "red ketchup/ A favorite American condiment"

A final perspective is shone on these events when the poet and his friends visit the famous battle grounds:

I turned to my friend Quammen, the nearer. Called:
"It's getting night, and a hell of a way
To go." We went,
And did not talk much on the way.

Indeed, it was a hell of a way to go, but the final irony is that the poet who makes his living through words has nothing left to say at the end of his own poem. There are a number of intersting sites on the web devoted to Chief Joseph that shine further light on this powerful poem:
P.B.S's Chief Joseph, with multiple links
Chief Joseph, Nez Perce (Nimiputimt) at Indians.org
Chief Joseph at Indianquides.com


Warren’s “Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980”

If I hadn't liked so many of the poems in "Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980" when I first read them nearly twenty years ago, I would be tempted to suspect that these are the kinds of poems that only us old folks would love. Many of the poems seem to reflect the kind of wisdom that comes from looking back on life.

Part I of "Paradox of Time" is one of the first poems in the section, which may be the main reason I chose to include it over several other poems in this section that I love:

PARADOX OF TIME
I. Gravity of Stone and Ecstasy of Wind

Each day now more precious will dawn,
And loved faces turn dearer still,
And when sunlight is withdrawn,
There, over the mountain's black profile,

The western star reigns
In splendor, benign, arrogant,
And the fact that it disdains
You, and your tenement

Of flesh, should instruct you in
The paradox of Time,
And the doubleness wherein
The fleshly glory may gleam.

Sit on the floor with a child.
Hear laugh that creature so young.
See loom its life-arch, and wild
With rage, speak wild words sprung

From vision, and thus atone
For all folly now left behind.
Learn the gravity of stone.
Learn the ecstasy of wind.


The title alone is nearly enough to make this poem memorable. But when you've gone through a near life-ending event, the opening two lines, clich"d though they may be, take on particular significance. I also like the way Warren transforms the distant star into a symbol of "disdain" because it, unlike this "tenement of flesh," seems infinite.

Instead of causing despair, though, this disdain causes the poet to revel in "fleshly glory," to celebrate the sheer joy of a young child. If we cannot endure like stone, than we must learn the "ecstasy of wind."

I probably chose "English Cocker: Old and Blind" for personal reasons, too, since my first dog as a child was an English Cocker and I was as devoted to him as he was to me and our family. Unfortunately, that also means I've experienced the "heart-stab" of this poem:

ENGLISH COCKER: OLD AND BLIND

With what painful deliberation he comes down the stair,
At the edge of each step one paw suspended in air,
And distrust, Does he thus stand on a final edge
Of the world? Sometimes he stands thus, and will not budge,

With a choking soft whimper, while monstrous blackness is whirled
Inside his head, and outside too, the world
Whirling in blind vertigo. But if your hand
Merely touches his head, old faith comes flooding back-and

The paw descends. His trust is infinite
In you, who are, in his eternal night,
Only a frail scent subject to the whim
Of wind, or only a hand held close to him

With a dog biscuit, or, in a sudden burst
Of temper, the force that jerks that goddamned, accurst
Little brute off your bed. But remember how you last saw
Him hesitate in his whirling dark, one paw

Suspended above the abyss at the edge of the stair,
And remember that musical whimper, and how, then aware
Of a sudden sweet heart-stab, you knew in him
The kinship of all flesh defined by a halting paradigm
.

Of course, the poem isn't really about a dog, is it? It's really about all of us who share "the kinship of all flesh defined by a halting paradigm." Although we may get angry at those we touch in our lives, there is a bond of trust that transcends all anger.

Still, when we finally stand at that final abyss we will put our final trust in those who have touched us, just as we have touched them.

Though perhaps the reason we bond so with a dog is that they, unlike most people, seem to place "infinite" trust in their master, deserved or not.

Warren’s “Being Here: Poetry 1977-1980”

"Being Here: Poetry 1977-1980," dedicated to Warren's grandfather, focuses on the passage of time and the sense of loss that accompanies that passage, attempting to comes to terms with those losses, perhaps not surprising since Warren was nearly seventy when the first of these poems were written.

In an endnote to these poems, Warren says:

There is one more thing I may mention. The order of the poems is not the order of composition (and certain poems composed during the general period are not included). The order and selection are determined thematically, but with echoes, repetitions, and variations in feeling and tonality. Here, as in life, meaning is, I should say, often more fruitfully found in the question asked than in any answer given. The thematic order-or better, structure-is played against, or with, a shadowy narrative, a shadowy autobiography, if you will. But this is an autobiography which represents a fusion of fiction and fact in varying degrees and perspectives. As with question and answer, fiction may often be more deeply significant than fact. Indeed, it may be said that our lives are our own supreme fiction.

Though I'm not sure this quotation is necessary to understand these poems, it reminded me of statements I've read on some fellow bloggers' pages.

One of my favorite poems from reading the poems when they originally appeared, is:

GRACKLES, GOODBYE

Black of grackles glints purple as, wheeling in sun-glare,
The flock splays away to pepper the blueness of distance.
Soon they are lost in the tracklessness of air.
I watch them go. I stand in my trance.

Another year gone. In trance of realization,
I remember once seeing a first fall leaf, flame-red, release
Bough-grip, and seek, through gold light of the season's sun,
Black gloss of a mountain pool, and there drift in peace.

Another year gone. And once my mother's hand
Held mine while I kicked the piled yellow leaves on the lawn
And laughed, not knowing some yellow-leaf season I'd stand
And see the hole filled. How they spread their obscene fake lawn.

Who needs the undertaker's sick lie
Flung thus in the teeth of Time, and the earth's spin and tilt?
What kind of fool would promote that kind of lie?
Even sunrise and sunset convict the half-wit of guilt.

Grackles, goodbye! The sky will be vacant and lonely
Till again I hear your horde's rusty creak high above,
Confirming the year's turn and the fact that only, only,
In the name of Death do we learn the true name of Love
.

Time may well be measured by loss. Nothing stands still, and even the best moments are but temporary. Every year, no matter how delightful, invariably parts. We celebrate this sense of loss in tributes to "fall," whether through celebration of fall harvest or through appreciation of fall leaves. Warren masterfully ties this celebration to a memory of holding his mother's hand while kicking piled yellow leaves. The general acceptance of the passage of time is masterfully juxtaposed to the image of his mother's grave obscenely covered in fake grass, a loss he is not prepared to accept. This motherless child realizes that only in Death do we learn the "true name of Love."

The equally dark "August Moon" is memorable for the startling images that open the poem:

AUGUST MOON

Gold like a half-slice of orange
Fished from a stiff Old-Fashioned, the moon
Lolls on the sky that goes deeper blue
By the tick of the watch. Or
Lolls like a real brass button half-buttoned
On the blue flannel sleeve
Of an expensive seagoing blue blazer.

Slowly stars, in a gradual
Eczema of glory, gain definition.

What kind of world is this we walk in?

It makes no sense except
The inner, near-soundless chug-chug of the body's old business-
Your father's cancer, or
Mother's stroke, or
The cat's fifth pregnancy.

Anyway, while night
Hardens into its infinite being,
We walk down the woods-lane, dreaming
There's an inward means of
Communication with
That world whose darkling susurration
Might-if only we were lucky-be
Deciphered.

Children do not count years
Except at birthday parties.
We count them unexpectedly,
At random, like
A half-wit pulling both triggers
Of a ten-gauge with no target, then

Wondering what made the noise,
Or what hit the shoulder with the flat
Butt of the axe-head.

But this is off the point, which is
The counting of years, and who
Wants to live anyway
Except to be of use to
Somebody loved?

At least, that's what they say.

Do you hear the great owl in distance?

Do you remember a childhood prayer-
A hand on your head?

The moon is lost in tree-darkness.
Stars show now only
In the pale path between treetops.
The track of white gravel leads forward in darkness.

I advise you to hold hands as you walk,
And speak not a word.


The phrase "stars, in a gradual/ Eczema of glory" particularly grabbed my imagination since stars are so often used to symbolize an infinite, benevolent universe. Confronted with a father's final heart attack and a mother's gradual disintegration into alzheimers, no wonder we're forced to ask, "What kind of world is this we walk in?"

If the loss of parents wasn't enough, some event in our own lives forces us "like a half-wit pulling both triggers/ Of a ten-gauge" shotgun, to suddenly realize our own years are rapidly disappearing. Hopefully we can counter this shock with the belief that "who wants to live anyway/ Except to be of use to/ Somebody loved?" If we can "be here" in the immediacy of love, if we hold the hands of the ones we love as we walk through life we can love life while we're here.

Warren’s “Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978”

"Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978" is the first book of Warren's poetry I ever read, and, perhaps luckily so, for it is by far my favorite section so far in the Collected Poems. In fact, I like so many poems in this section that I'm hard pressed to choose just one to represent the section.

These poems focus more on childhood and on making sense of the past than Warren's earlier poems. And whether true or not, there is a greater sense of personal exploration, personal involvement, than in his earlier poems.

I'm not sure why I chose this poem, perhaps merely because it is one that I remember vividly from my first reading of this book:

WHEN THE TOOTH CRACKS-ZING!

When the tooth cracks-zing!-it
Is like falling in love, or like
Remembering your mother's face when she-and you only
A child-smiled, or like
Falling into Truth. This,
Of course, before the pain
Begins. But even
The pain is something-is, you might say,
For lack of a better word,
Reality.

Do you
Remember that Jacob Boehme saw
Sunlight flash on a pewter platter on
The table, and his life was totally changed?

Is the name of God nothing more than
The accidental flash on a platter? But what is accident?

I have waked in the dark with the heart-throbbing conviction
Of having just seen some masterly
Shape, but without name. The world
Is suddenly different, then
The pain begins. Sharp as a snapped tooth, it strikes.
And, again, I have waked knowing
That I have only been dreaming,
In classic and timeless precision, of
Winter moonlight flooding a large room where
No spark now winks on the hearth, a broken
Brandy snifter glitters in moonshine by the coffee table, a
Half-burned cigarette butt beside it. And
A woman's slipper lies on its side
On the moon-bleached rug. In moonshine,
Silky as pastel, dust covers all.

It is only a dream, but it must have a name.
Must we totally forget a thing to know it?
Perhaps redemption is nothing more than the way
We learn to live with memories that are no longer remembered.

But it is hard to know the end of a story.

We often pray God to let us have Truth.
It is more important to pray God to help us to live with it.
Especially if your memory is not what it used to be.

Perhaps I merely liked the opening metaphor. Too often that's exactly what discovering the "truth" seems like. There is the instant recognition of "truth," of reality, but too often the discovery is accompanied by pain. Cerainly that's the kind of truths that Warren often seems to discover in his poems. Although we all like to say that we want the "truth," too often we end up hearing Jack Nicholson's famous line, "The Truth. You Can't Handle the Truth" echoing in our ears when we do discover it. Of course, that pain doesn't mean that we don't need to know the truth in order to avoid other forms of pain, now does it?

Like the mystic Jacob Boehme, most of us want to believe in God, and, because we want to believe, we're afraid to examine our beliefs too closely, don't want to believe that God is merely a "flash in the platter."

Too many of us have dreamt of past loves only to awaken to the realization that those loves have slipped away, have left us, like Dickens ' Miss Havisham, with our dreams left in the dust.

Perhaps it's merely the old man in me talking, but I particularly liked the llines "Perhaps redemption is nothing more than the way/ We learn to live with memories that are no longer remembered." Life is often learning to live with the results of our mistakes, learning to find joy despite, not because of, our past actions.

It may well be that the most important thing in life is not merely to discover truth, but, rather, to learn to live with the truth. Poems like this almost make me agree with Harold Bloom that Warren's poems "find a place with Melville's best poems, formidable exiles from our dominant Emersonian tradition. Like Melville, Warren forces us to look at our dark side rather than glibly assume the best about ourselves.

Warren’s “Or Else: Poem/Poems 1968-1974.”

Though I'll have to admit that I generally find Warren's numbering of his poems at worst annoying, at best, irrelevant, he did use an interesting numbing system in "Or Else: Poem/Poems 1968-1974." We see the pattern begin to emerge in the very first poems:

I. The Nature of a Mirror

The sky has murder in the eye, and I
Have murder in the heart, for I
Am only human.
We look at each other, the sky and I.
We understand each other, for

The solstice of summer has sagged, I stand
And wait. Virtue is rewarded, that
Is the nightmare, and I must tell you

That soon now, even before
The change from Daylight Saving Time, 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.

The numbered poems, the majority of the poems, seem to attempt to portray the everyday reality of our lives, the physical reality that tends to dominate the "news." If we judge the world from what we observe, from the news that dominates the newspaper and television, it would be hard to deny that "the sky has murder in the eye" and that, as fundamentalists would have us believe, all men "have murder in the heart" for we are inherently sinners. In other words, if we use these mediums as a way of seeing ourselves, it would be hard to deny that man is inherently evil.

The "Interjections" question that view of reality and suggest that perhaps what's "real" isn't quite as clear as it might seem. If, we re-evaluate ourselves through introspection, we may find that other possibilities exist:

Interjection #1:

The Need for Re-evaluation

Is this really me? Of course not, for Time
Is only a mirror in the fun-house.

You must re-evaluate the whole question.


The "whole question," apparently suggests "what does it mean to be human." We are not merely what is reflected by the media and by society as a whole.

In "Interjection #2 Caveat" Warren continues to suggest that the world may not be exactly as we see it:

Interjection #2:
Caveat

For John Crowe Ransom

Necessarily, we must think of the
world as continuous, for if it were
not so I would have told you, for I have
bled for this knowledge, and every man
is a sort of Jesus, but in any
case, if it were not so, you wouldn't know
you are in the world, or even that the
world exists at all-

but only, oh, on-
ly, in discontinuity, do we

know that we exist, or that, in the deep-
est sense, the existence of anything
signifies more than the fact that it is
continuous with the world.

A new high-
way is under construction. Crushed rock has
been spread for miles and rolled down. On Sunday,
when no one is there, go and stand on the
roadbed. It stretches before your eyes in-
to distance. But fix your eyes firmly on
one fragment of crushed rock. Now, it only

glows a little, inconspicuously
one might say. But soon, you will notice a
slight glittering. Then a marked vibration
sets in. You brush your hand across your eyes,
but, suddenly, the earth underfoot is
twitching. Then, remarkably, the bright sun
jerks like a spastic, and all things seem to
be spinning away from the univer-
sal center that the single fragment of
crushed rock has ineluctably become.

At this point, while there is still time and will,
I advise you to detach your gaze from
that fragment of rock. Not all witnesses
of the phenomenon survive unchanged
the moment when, at last, the object screams
in an ecstasy of
being.

Most of us spend our lives living within the notion that time, and our very existence, is "continuous," except, perhaps, for the child who worries that when the parent goes out of sight they actually disappear. It would be difficult to go to sleep at night if we didn't believe that our lives were continuous. Otherwise, we might fear that we would not awaken from our dream world.

We are, after all, on the road of life and, if we look up ahead, we should be able to see our future. Metaphorically, as a nation we all seem headed in the same general direction, and our neighbor's fate and our fate are the same. We are taught this simple concept our whole lives, so why would we see it any other way?

Warren suggests, though, that if we really look closely at life, if we meditate on it, "fix your eyes firmly on one fragment," then we may begin to see the world differently. Look at something too closely and instead of appearing solid and sedate, it will appear to move, perhaps "to be alive."

Suggesting that he himself has done this, he warns you "while there is still time and will, " detach your gaze from that fragment of rock" or you risk changing your view of the world when "the object screams in an ecstasy of being."

"Interjection # 6" goes even further:

What You Sometimes Feel on Your Face at Night

Out of mist, God's
Blind hand gropes to find
Your face. The fingers
Want to memorize your face. The fingers
Will be wet with the tears of your eyes. God

Wants only to love you, perhaps.

If these poems, these interjections, were presented by themselves they would have presented a shocking shift in Warren's view, but because they are presented next to the gritty, poems about, say, a "Man Coming Down Steps Of Court House After Acquittal On Charge Of Having Shot To Death Ad Episcopal Minister Reported To Be Working Up The Niggers," they simply make us think about what is real and question whether or not we have any choice about how we view reality.