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THE POETS LAUREATE SERIES -- Robert Penn Warren
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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,

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

Available,

And some, as sources best informed affirm,

Rose,

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;

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,

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