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Though it has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize, the poetry of Robert Penn Warren still is not widely or well understood. In this study, Victor H. Strandberg redresses this imbalance by providing a comprehensive survey of the poetic canon of this gifted, complex, and much-neglected poet.

Warren writes in the tradition of Western poets concerned with the painful experience of a forced, one-way passage from innocence into “the world’s stew” of time and loss. This passage, Strandberg explains, results for Warren in bifurcation of the self into warring segments: a “clean” idealistic surface ego, and a polluted “undiscovered self” in the unconscious. Revelation of the “dirty” part of human personality is tellingly evoked in many of Warren’s major works. As the poet’s vision expands, however, these conflicting elements are unified in a “mystic osmosis of being” whereby “the world which once provoked . . . fear and disgust may now be totally loved.”

In addition to close analysis both of individual poems and of the poet’s overall development, Strandberg reviews critical opinion of Warren’s poetry over the last three decades and assesses his place among fellow poets. Both as “prophecy” and as “art,” he concludes, Robert Penn Warren’s poetry is so significant, versatile, and excellent “as to rank him among the finest and most fertile talents of his age.”

Victor H. Strandberg is associate professor of English at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Robert Penn Warren, American poetry


Literature in English, North America

The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren
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