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Robert Penn Warren’s “A Way To Love God”

Robert Penn Warren is pretty amazing dude.

He’s the only person ever to win Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. Warren won the 1947 Pulitzer for All The King’s Men, and he won Pultizers in 1958 and 1979 for his poetry. Amazing.

I’m not a big poetry guy. I’ve tried and tried, but I’ve just never really gotten into it. But while researching RPW’s poems, I came across this one called “A Way To Love God.”

See what you think:

Here is the shadow of truth, for only the shadow is true.
And the line where the incoming swell from the sunset Pacific
First leans and staggers to break will tell all you need to know
About submarine geography, and your father’s death rattle
Provides all biographical data required for the Who’s Who of the dead.

I cannot recall what I started to tell you, but at least
I can say how night-long I have lain under the stars and
Heard mountains moan in their sleep.By daylight,
They remember nothing, and go about their lawful occasions
Of not going anywhere except in slow disintegration.At night
They remember, however, that there is something they cannot remember.
So moan.Theirs is the perfected pain of conscience that
Of forgetting the crime, and I hope you have not suffered it.I have.

I do not recall what had burdened my tongue, but urge you
To think on the slug’s white belly, how sick-slick and soft,
On the hairiness of stars, silver, silver, while the silence
Blows like wind by, and on the sea’s virgin bosom unveiled
To give suck to the wavering serpent of the moon; and,
In the distance, in plaza, piazza, place, platz, and square,
Boot heels, like history being born, on cobbles bang.

Everything seems an echo of something else.

And when, by the hair, the headsman held up the head
Of Mary of Scots, the lips kept on moving,
But without sound.The lips,
They were trying to say something very important.

But I had forgotten to mention an upland
Of wind-tortured stone white in darkness, and tall, but when
No wind, mist gathers, and once on the Sarré at midnight,
I watched the sheep huddling.Their eyes
Stared into nothingness.In that mist-diffused light their eyes
Were stupid and round like the eyes of fat fish in muddy water,
Or of a scholar who has lost faith in his calling.

Their jaws did not move.Shreds
Of dry grass, gray in the gray mist-light, hung
From the side of a jaw, unmoving.

You would think that nothing would ever again happen.

That may be a way to love God.

Nice poem, eh?

Any thoughts on how I might enjoy poetry more?

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24 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m like you. I like snippets of poetry like this one, but a whole book of poetry? Just not my thing.

    Sorry, no help from me 🙂

    Like

    June 18, 2013
    • Yeah, I struggle enjoying even shorter poems. But this one stood out to me.

      Like

      June 18, 2013
  2. frederiquedolle2013 #

    A reblogué ceci sur fredtroy and commented:
    is not it? in every word lies the power of his association with the sentence and the text.

    Like

    June 18, 2013
  3. You may never seek it out but learn to enjoy it in small doses. I feel the same way about ice hockey.

    Like

    June 18, 2013
  4. You could write one about what you love ?

    Like

    June 18, 2013
  5. Denise #

    I love poetry but not the academics of understanding poetry. I go on stints where I put a book of “maybe poems” by my bed and read one each day. Most often I forget all about it within minutes, but occasionally a poem will be a gem and will stick with me and make me think, like this one you’ve chosen. I also go on long stints where I don’t read any poetry at all and that’s good too. I guess it’s like finding an agate at the beach (these days,) so poetry is a personal treasure hunt and that’s fun. Maybe you’re trying too hard to like it.

    Like

    June 18, 2013
    • I love poetry. I feel exactly the same way you do. It is very personal and fun too 😉

      Like

      June 18, 2013
  6. [OK, second try at posting this comment. The first one apparently got flushed into cyberspace because I wasn’t “properly” logged in. GRRRR. 😦 ]

    Anyway: Denise is on to something important. Don’t try too hard to “understand” a poem in some academic sense. I find it helps to read a poem out loud, to get a feel for its rhythm and flow, its rattle and hum, if you will.

    She and artourway are right about the personal nature of poetry too. YOU haven’t failed in some way if you don’t “get” a particular piece. Some just won’t resonate for you. Some will leave you scratching your head. And others, like the one above, will make you sit up and say, “WOW!” Treasure the ones that do and let go of the others without the slightest bit of guilt.

    Good on you for reading poetry.

    Like

    June 18, 2013
    • Good advice. Thanks Ross. I tend to approach poems like I do novels and maybe I shouldn’t do that.

      Like

      June 18, 2013
  7. Sometimes listening to audio versions adds to the richness, that is if you like the way the poet reads their work. Otherwise, that can be a big turnoff.

    Like

    June 18, 2013
    • To second this idea, performance poetry can sometimes be a way to ease into it. Can be tricky though because it can also borderline on rap and hip-hop performance — depends on the style. Someone like Sarah Kay or Suheir Hammad (both have great TED appearances) really infuse their own poetry with the emotion and the phrasing that was intended (removing the need to try and do this for yourself)… worth a shot.

      Like

      June 19, 2013
  8. Reblogged this on Second Chances and commented:
    An interesting thought about poetry…it does seem to come from ones soul doesn’t it.

    Like

    June 18, 2013
  9. for me poetry is my escape and lets others see the world through my eyes.

    Like

    June 18, 2013
  10. deweydecimalsbutler #

    Good poetry is like salt. A little goes a long way. Too much, and you’re all puckered up with a bad taste in your mouth. Good poetry, you have to pause and take time in between to digest. I always consider poetry as trying to tell me everything that a novel would but particularly condensed. I’m thinking of something like Catcher in the Rye versus “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Same essential idea, totally different ways of going about it. I like that I have to slow down and really examine the ink within a poem.
    *Reading over my response, I sound a bit preachy. Not my intention, just gushing about some poetry I guess. Good poetry, that is. And I agree with the above comments that not all poetry speaks to a single person.

    Like

    June 18, 2013
  11. Reblogged this on Adithya Entertainment.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
  12. Have you seen Garrison Keillor’s book entitled simply Good Poems? (Yes, that Garrison Keillor.) He’s collected some plain-spoken poems that tell stories, paint picture, and touch the heart. Nothing that requires too much analysis, but poems that bear rereading to see all the stuff they’re made of. I bet you would like it.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
    • Flip side of this is a book called De/Compositions by W. D. Snodgrass. He took 101 classic poems and rewrote them the way a bad (or just new) poet would. Besides the Foreword, there’s only a limited amount of commentary after every set of composed and decomposed poems (the book was intended to be a textbook), but it’s kind of fun to see, as the subtitle says, good poems gone wrong.

      Like

      June 19, 2013
  13. Bert Savarese #

    I read this aloud so I could follow his rhythm & the images stood out like a gentle, soft touch to my ears. Beautiful work.

    Years ago I wrote poetry as a a form of therapy, to let the reality of my life ‘be’, without being assaulted by it. I could survive if I only looked at it with a side glance, Not full frontal assault.
    The choice of a word, phrase or image softened the blow. Poetry didn’t change my situation, only helped me live with it.

    Now, many years later, the poems lay bound in spiral notebooks, questioning me, ” What will you do with us now that the storms are over & you are left with our yellowed paged life story? Will you stick us in your pocket on the way to the crematorium, abolishing years of side, slender existence that no one saw but you? We are your children; do not forget us.”

    This is what poetry did for me & I believe it’s always a sliver of light into another ‘s existence. Yet, like the questioning, what do we do with the children when death, though not galloping, sits by, waiting for his opportunity to shake your hand.

    —————————————————————————————————–

    Does this make sense to you? Poems tell us about the writer but tells the reader more about himself upon reflection. Your response to the words as they roll around on your tongue, fill your belly with your own emotional reaction will give you insight into who you are, also.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
  14. eoigalvaultpress #

    I love poetry but I ruin it for myself by trying to understand poems on different levels, which may or may not exist!

    Like

    June 20, 2013
  15. mrsgracelovesenglish #

    Reblogged this on Mrs. Grace's Class.

    Like

    June 21, 2013
  16. Reblogged this on Instant Inspiration.

    Like

    June 22, 2013
  17. I’ve found that I enjoy poetry without rhyme more. One poet that I would strongly recommend (the poem you posted reminds me of his work) is Czeslaw Milosz. I connect with his work in a way that I cannot connect with other poetry.

    Like

    June 24, 2013
  18. Take an excerpt of a few poems you like, enter them into iwl.me, and it will give you a list of poets that write like that. Or you can just google, “Poems similar to . . . ” and then give the author or title of the poem.

    Like

    June 24, 2013
  19. You might like James Joyce. I do.

    Like

    June 24, 2013

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