THE POETS LAUREATE SERIES – Robert Penn Warren
We call them, Poet Laureate. This is their histories, in brief. We name, date their appointment, tell a few pertinent details, and share a sample of their work.
#3 1944 – 1945 and 1986 – 1987
Robert Penn Warren (1905 – 1989) Robert Penn Warren was born in Guthrie, Todd County, Kentucky. An award winning poet but best known for his novel, All the Kings Men, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1947. He also received two Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry. He served twice as Poet Laureate. He joined a small, fiercely Southern-minded literary group, the Fugitives, which included Cleanth Brooks, Allen Tate, and John Crowe Ransom. He spent most of his time teaching at Yale –1950 until 1973. Along with Cleanth Brooks he collaborated to write the text books, Understanding Poetry, Holt, (1938), 4th edition, (1976) and Understanding Fiction, Crofts, (1943), 2nd Edition, Appleton-Century-Crofts, (1959). Honors include the Bolingen Prize, National Medal for Literature, and Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Patriotic Tour and Postulate of Joy
By Robert Penn Warren
Once, once, in Washington,
D.C., in June,
All night—I swear it—a single mockingbird
Sang to the Presidential ear,
Wherein it poured
Such criticism and advice as that ear
Had rarely had the privilege to hear.
And sang to every senator
And some, as sources best informed affirm,
Rose with a taste in the throat like bile,
To the bathroom fled
And spat, and faced the mirror there, and while
The bicarb fizzed, stared feet cold on tile.
And sang to Edgar Hoover, too,
And as it preached
Subversion and bright disaster, he
Woke, then looked at Mom’s photo, so heard
No more. But far,
And meditated on the message of that bird.
And sang—oh, merciless!—to me,
Who to that place
And to that massive hour had moved, and now
Rose naked, and shivered in moonlight, and cried
Out in my need
To know what postulate of joy men have tried
To live by, in sunlight and moonlight, until they died.
Primary source: The Poets Laureate
Anthology by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt
in association with the Library of Congress
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