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Robert Penn Warren

Warren’s “Uncollected Poems 1922-1943”

Although at times I was tempted to skip through the opening section of The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, sticking to my belief that you ultimately gain the best understanding of a poet by reading all of his works chronologically, I finally got through the section entitled “Uncollected Poems 1922-1943.”

Considering that Warren would have only been 17 in 1922, but 38 by ’43 it’s difficult to judge what one has a right to expect from these poems. I certainly wouldn’t expect the same quality of poems from a high school senior that you would expect from a college professor.

That said, in stark contrast to Warren’s later poems, there weren’t too many that I found particularly compelling. Far too many of them sounded like

THE ROMANCE MACABRE

Even tonight, I think, if you would ask,
I could remember what it was you said
When first you pierced beneath my spangled mask
To find the caverned eyes of one long dead.

Even tonight, when once again a spring
Storms gallantly the wintry bastion,
We might rehearse this tale; it will not bring
Tears to the sockets of a skeleton.

Forgive me, Madam, this metaphor macabre,
One scarce incarnate of those glories fled;
For ghost and ghost commune till dawn together,
Haunted by anguish of the lustful dead.

Now, I don’t know about you, but long ago when I was 17, or even 38, and was confronted by a lover I wasn’t thinking about death, no matter how blustery the weather outside, though I might not have been above quoting Marvel’s “To His Coy Mistress.”

That said, I am still fond of a simple poem called:

PROPHECY

You see no beauty in the parched parade,
The quivering, heat-glazed highways mile one mile,
The fields where beauty holds a debt unpaid,
The gray, drab barracks in monotonous, grim file.

You take no joy when dust wraiths dimly curl
Above the winding column crawling on far hills.
You see but short beyond the present whirl
Of circumstances, your little wrongs and petty ills.

But when it is all passed and you have lost
The swinging rhythmic cadence of the marching feet,
Then you will reck as paltry small the cost,
And memory will purge the bitter from the sweet.

This simple poem reminds me of my days in the Army and the barracks that I lived in while going through R.O.T.C., later, officer’s training at Fort Knox Kentucky, and even serving at Fort Irwin, California. It was hard to imagine that you could ever look bad fondly at basic training and all the harassment we were enduring, and more than a few “petty ills.” There was, after all, good reason why “Get Smart” was a favorite among trainees, especially the line “Would you believe…”

Thankfully, I’ve long passed the time when I am unable to fully appreciate life’s challenges for what they are, precious moments that I’ll look fondly back on in the future.

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Things are far too hectic around here

Things have been nothing if not hectic lately. I sold my house in a little over a week to the fourth person who looked at it. It just passed a very thorough home inspection yesterday, though there’s still a number of small things I’ve promised to fix around here before I’m ready to turn the house over on the 19th of September.

Despite a frantic second look at houses in Tacoma this weekend, Leslie and I could not agree on a house. Not surprisingly, since our outlook on homes seems to be quite different. and prices in Tacoma are as outrageously high as the demand, with houses disappearing from the market in a day or two.

We have another appointment at 9:00 tomorrow to look at a home in Tacoma. That will necessitate driving up tonight, if we can find a child at home who will house us and the dog, otherwise we will need to make a round trip tomorrow, driving up before nine and returning by noon so that Leslie can get back to work and finish up everything that needs to be done there.

I’ve also promised a posting on The Grapes of Wrath for a political web site starting up early next week. I’ve been running over ideas in my head just before going to sleep at night, a habit unlikely to engender a decent night’s sleep. I still need to re-read the novel, though, and I’m wondering how I’m going to find the time to do that.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to read The Collected Poetry of Robert Penn Warren in an attempt to post to this site later today. Despite the fact that I loved Warren’s later poetry, I’m beginning to remember why I didn’t finish Warren’s All the King’s Men years ago, one of only three books that I’ve started in my lifetime and was unable to finish, the others being a famous, but ungodly long Russian novel by Tolstoy, and that classic anti-slavery novel by what’s-her-name that apprarently started the Civil War, showing that lousy literature is probably much more popular and influential than good literature will ever be. Small wonder some idiot wants to give the Nobel Prize in literature to the author of the Harry Potter series. Give me a break!!

I didn’t discover Robert Penn Warren’s poetry until relatively late in his career, and I think that’s a good thing because so far I’m not too fond of his early poetry, which seems to me a cross between Edgar Alan Poe and T.S. Eliot, though, according to Bloom, his favorite English poet was supposedly my favorite English poet, Thomas Hardy.