Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Now and then – Robert Penn Warren 1976

“And I, too, went on my way, the winning and losing, or what
Is sometimes of all things the worst, the not knowing
One thing from the other.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘American Portrait Old Style’, 1976, p.5).

“But what can you say -
Can you say – when all-to-be-said is the done?” (Robert Penn Warren ‘American Portrait Old Style’, 1976, p.6).

“Late, late, toward sunset, I wandered
Where old dreams had once been Life’s truth.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘American Portrait Old Style’, 1976, p.6).

“But why should I lie here longer?
I am not dead yet, though in years,
And the world’s way is yet long to go
And I love the world even in my anger
And love is a hard thing to outgrow.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘American Portrait Old Style’, 1976, p.7).

“And now, when all voices were stilled and the lamps
Long out in the tent, and stars
Had changed place in the sky, I yet lay
By the spring with one hand in the cold black water
That showed one star in reflection, alone – and lay
Wondering and wondering, how many
A morning would I rise up to greet
And what grace find.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Amazing grace in the back country’, 1976, p.10).

 “We found nothing to say, for what can a voice say when
The world is a voice, no ear needing.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Star-Fall’, 1976, p.24).

“Moonlight stumbles with bright heel
In the stream, and the stones sing.
What they sing is nothing, nothing,
But the joy Time plies to feel
In fraternal flux and glimmer
With the stream that does not know
Its destination and knows no
Truth but its own moonlit shimmer.
In my dream Time and water interflow,
And bubbles of consciousness glimmer ghostly as they go.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Dream of a Dream’, 1976, p.30).

 “All will be in vain unless – unless what? Unless
You realize that what you think is Truth is only

A husk for something else. Which might,
Shall we say, be called energy, as good a word as any. (…)


At night I have stood there, and the wide world
Was flat and circular under the storm of the

Geometry of stars. The mountains, in starlight, were black
And black-toothed to define the enormous circle

Of desert of which I was the center. This
Is one way to approach the question.

All is in vain unless you can, motionless, standing there,
Breathe with the rhythm of stars.

You cannot, of course, see your own face, but you know that it,
Lifted, is stripped to white bone by starlight. This is happening.

This is happiness.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Unless’, 1976, p.36).

“… I wake
From my dream, and know that the shadow

Of the great spruce close by my house must be falling
Black on the white roof of winter. The spruce
Wants to hide the house from the moon, for
The moon’s intentions have never been quite clear.

The spruce does not know that a square of moonlight lies cunningly on
The floor by my bed.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘The mission’, 1976, p.41).

“What does the veery say, at dusk in shad-thicket?
There must be some meaning, or why should your heart stop,

As though, in the dark depth of water, Time held its breath,
While the message spins on like a spool of silk thread fallen.


What meaning, when at the unexpected street corner,
You meet some hope long forgotten, and your old heart,

Like neon in shore fog, or distance, glows dimly again?
Will you waver, or clench stoic teeth and move on?” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Code Book Lost’, 1976, p.43).

“Yes, message on message, like wind or water, in light or in dark,
The whole world pours at us. But the code book, somehow, is lost.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Code Book Lost’, 1976, p.44).

“… You cannot pray. But
You can wash your face in cold water.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Sister Water, 1976, p.48).

“There are many things in the world and you
Are one of them. Many things keep happening and
You are one of them, and the happening that
Is you keeps falling like snow
On the landscape of not-you, hiding hideousness, until
The streets and the world of wrath are choked with snow.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Love recognized’, 1976, p.52).

“Mellow, mellow, at thrush-hour
Swells the note to redeem all – Sweat and swink and daytime’s rancor
And the thought that all’s not worth all.

Blue in distance while the sun dips,
Talus, cliff, and forest melt
Into the promise that soon sleep
Will heal the soul’s identity.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘The smile, 1976, p.53).

“This is the season when cards are exchanged, or
Addresses scribbled on paper, with ragged edges. Smiles
Are frozen with a mortuary precision to seal friendships. Time is up.” (Robert Penn Warren ‘Departure’, 1976, p.72).

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