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Robert penn warren

Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn Warren, born in Guthrie, Kentucky in 1905, was one of

the twentieth century's most eminent American writers. He was a

distinguished novelist and poet, literary critic, essayist, short

story writer, and coeditor of numerous textbooks. He also a

founding editor of The Southern Review, a journal of literary

criticism and political thought.

The primary influences on Robert Warren's career as a poet were

probably his Kentucky boyhood, and his relationships with his

father and his maternal grandfather. As a boy, Warren spent many

hours on his grandfather's farm, absorbing stories of the Civil

War and the local tobacco wars between growers and wholesalers,

the subject of his first novel, Night Riders. His grandfather,

Thomas Gabriel Penn, had been a calvary officer in the Civil War

and was well-read in both military history and poetry, which he

sometimes recited for Robert.

Robert's father was a banker who had once had aspirations to

become a lawyer and a poet. Because of economic troubles, and

his responsibility for a family of half-brothers and sisters when

his father died, Robert Franklin Warren forsook his literary

ambitions and devoted himself to more lucrative businesses.

Robert Warren did not always have ambitions to become a writer,

in fact, one of his earlier dreams was to become an adventurer on

the high seas. This fantasy might have indeed come about, for

his father intended to get him an appointment to Annapolis, had

it not been for a childhood accident in which he lost sight in

one of his eyes.

Warren was an outstanding student but there were also many books

at home, and he savored reading. His father at one time aspired

to be a poet. His grandfather Penn, with whom he spent much time

when he was young, was an exceptional storyteller and greatly

influenced young Red. But both of these men whom he loved had in

some sense failed to achieve. By contrast, Warren was determined

to achieve, to be successful.

During his college years at Vanderbilt, the sense of being

physically maimed, as well as the fear sympathetic blindness in

his remaining good eye became almost unbearable.

At Vanderbilt University he met Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom,

Donald Davidson, and others interested in poetry. As part of The

Fugitives, a private group that met off campus, he delved deeply

into poetry, and his first poems were published in their short-

lived quarterly. Warren had a remarkable capacity for friendship,

and he was in touch with these men all of their lives. For years

Tate was "first critic" of his poetry.

After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1925, he took a Master's

Degree from the University of California at Berkley. After

visiting Yale University, he moved to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar,

where he wrote his first book: John Brown: The Making of a

Martyr in 1929.

"Red" Warren, as he was known to his friends, married Emma

Brescia in 1930, a marriage which ended in divorce 20 years

later. In the last several years of that period, Warren was

penned with depression and a lack of new material. His period of

dissolution did not end until his second marriage to Eleanor

Clark in 1952.

Warren received many honors including a Pulitzer Prize for the

fiction All the King's Men, 1946: This novel illustrating a

powerful Southern governor resembling the Louisiana politician

Huey P. Long. .

He also produced his complex World Enough and Time, based on the

Kentucky hanging of Jeremiah Beauchamp for murder in 1826. The

research he done for this book was done at the Library of

Congress during the time he was Poetry Consultant there. In this

research, he uncovered the sorbid tale of Lilburne Lewis, Thomas

Jefferson's nephew, who chopped a young slave girl to pieces with

a meat ax. Robert struggled to convert the account of the murder

into a long dramatic poem, which was to emerge at last in 1953 as

Brother to Dragons: A Tale in verse and Voices, one of the most

distinctive long poems in American literature.

Warren's marriage to Eleanor and the births of their two

children, Rosanna and Gabriel, brought new life into his

writing. After the Pulitzer Prize-winning Promises: Poems 1954-

1956, dedicated to his children, Warren produced several more

novels and a steady stream of poetry. He also wrote his other

Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poems, Now and Then:

Poems, in 1978. He is still known to be the only writer to win

a Pulitzer in both categories. He also received the prestigious

National Medal Now and Then and the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, a

MacArthur Prize "genius" grant, and was named the country's first

Poet Laureate in 1986.

Warren's long record of achievement in American poetry can hardly

be equaled in either quantity or quality. In his earlier years,

during which, he was an admirer of innovators such as T.S. Elliot

and by the revival of interest in seventeenth century poetry. In

these years, he produced the best adaptations of the Metaphysical

style of any of his contemporaries.

One perceptive critic said that, "Warren's own life, his own

story, would become partly at least that of an exile telling

stories about his homeland." In talking about his work Warren

noted: "I am a creature of this world but I am also a yearner. I

would call this temperament rather than theology_I haven't got

any gospel. That is, I feel an immanence of meaning in things,

but I have no meaning to put there that is interesting or

beautiful." He continued to deal with timeless themes, and his

late poetry is considered among his best.

Late in life Warren said: "I'm a naturalist. I don't believe in

God. But I want to find meaning in life. I refuse to believe it's

merely a dreary sequence of events. So I write stories and

poetry. My work is my testimony . . . I want to give myself in

sacrifice of some sort. To participate in the common body of

human life . . . my poetry lets me do that, but that sounds so

trite to say."

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