Literary Quote of the Day: Robert Penn Warren
Today’s literary quote of the day is from Robert Penn Warren. Instead of quoting a part of a poem, I have decided to publish the entire poem here.
After the Dinner Party
You two sit at the table late, each, now and then,
Twirling a near-empty wine glass to watch the last red
Liquid blimb up the crystalline spin to the last moment when
Centrifugality fails: with nothing now said.
What is left to say when the last logs sag and wink?
The dark outside is streaked with the casual snowflake
Of winter’s demise, all guests long gone home, and you think
Of others who never again can come to partake
Of food, wine, laughter, and philosophy—
Though tonight one guest has quoted a killing phrase we owe
To a lost one whose grin, in eternal atrophy,
Now in dark celebrates some last unworded jest none can know.
Now a chair scrapes, sudden, on tiles, and one of you
Moves soundless, as in hypnotic certainty,
The length of table. Stands there a moment or two,
Then sits, reaches out a hand, open and empty.
How long it seems till a hand finds that hand there laid,
While ash, still glowing, crumbles, and silence is such
That the crumbling of ash is audible. Now naught’s left unsaid
Of the old heart-concerns, the last, tonight, which
Had been of the absent children, whose bright gaze
Over-arches the future’s horizon, in the mist of your prayers,
The last log is black, while ash beneath displays
No last glow. You snuff candles. Soon the old stairs
Will creak with your grave and synchronized tread as each mounts
To a briefness of light, then true weight of darkness, and then
That heart-dimness in which neither joy nor sorrow counts.
Even so, one hand gropes out for another, again.
As always, feel free to share your thoughts regarding this particular quote or drop one of your own favorite literary quotes in the comment section of this post.
For those who don’t know a lot about Robert Penn Warren he was one of the founders of the New Criticism:
New Criticism was the dominant trend in English and American literary criticism of the mid twentieth century, from the 1920s to the early 1960s. Its adherents were emphatic in their advocacy of close reading and attention to texts themselves, and their rejection of criticism based on extra-textual sources, especially biography. At their best, New Critical readings were brilliant, articulately argued, and broad in scope, but sometimes they were idiosyncratic and moralistic.
The notion of ambiguity is an important concept within New Criticism; several prominent New Critics have been enamored above all else with the way that a text can display multiple simultaneous meanings. In the 1930s, I.A. Richards borrowed Sigmund Freud’s term “overdetermination” (which Louis Althusser would later revive in Marxist political theory) to refer to the multiple meanings which he believed were always simultaneously present in language. To Richards, claiming that a work has “One And Only One True Meaning” is an act of superstition (The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 39).
In 1954, William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley published an essay entitled “The intentional fallacy”, in which they argued strongly against any discussion of an author’s intention, or “intended meaning.” For Wimsatt and Beardsley, the words on the page were all that mattered; importation of meanings from outside the text was quite irrelevant, and potentially distracting. This became a central tenet of the second generation of New Criticism.
Because New Critics admit no information other than that contained in the “text” which they study, no proper New Critical investigation should include biographical information on the author. Furthermore, studying a passage of prose or poetry in New Critical style requires careful, exacting scrutiny of the passage itself, since after all no other information source is permissible – a rigid attitude for which the New Critics were often scolded in later times: their immanent readings may also be taken as a conservative attempt to isolate the text as a solid, immutable entity, shielded from any external influences. Nevertheless, immanent reading or close reading is now a fundamental tool of literary criticism. Such a reading places great emphasis on the particular over the general, paying close attention to individual words, syntax, and the order in which sentences and ideas unfold as they are read. They look at, for example, theme, imagery, metaphor, rhythm, meter, etc.