Robert Penn Warren quotes

  • The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can't know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn't got and which if he had it, would save him.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Knowledge #Men #Ends

  • Everything seems an echo of something else.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Echoes

  • The lack of a sense of history is the damnation of the modern world.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #History #World #Damnation

  • Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #History #Historical #Littles

  • ...a man does not die for words. He dies for his relation to them.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Men #Doe #Relation

  • Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Real #Writing #Want

  • The poem . . . is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see-it is, rather, a light by which we may see-and what we see is life.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Meaningful #Men #Light

  • I longed to know the world's name.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Names #World

  • I think the greatest curse of American society has been the idea of an easy millennialism -- that some new drug, or the next election or the latest in social engineering will solve everything.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Thinking #Engineering #Ideas

  • And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Devil #Students #Complicated

  • The image that fiction presents is purged of the distractions, confusions and accidents of ordinary life.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Writing #Confusion #Fiction

  • The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Meaningful #Men #Poetry

  • If you could not accept the past and its burden there was no future, for without one there cannot be the other.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Past #Accepting #Burden

  • The urge to write poetry is like having an itch. When the itch becomes annoying enough, you scratch it.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Writing #Scratches #Annoying

  • Yet the definition we have made of ourselves is ourselves. To break out of it, we must make a new self. But how can the self make a new self when the selflessness which it is, is the only substance from which the new self can be made?
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Happiness #Self #Substance

  • If you look at a thing, the very fact of your looking changes it...if you think about yourself, that very fact changes you.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Happiness #Thinking #Facts

  • For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar's gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Country #Growing Up #Blood

  • Tell me a story of deep delight.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Delight #Stories #Storytelling

  • It is a human defect--to try to know one's self by the self of another.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Self #Trying #Defects

  • When you get born your father and mother lost something out of themselves, and they are going to bust a ham trying to get it back, and you are it. They know they can't get it all back but they will get as big a chunk out of you as they can.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Mother #Father #Trying

  • In America they have to know just what you are-- novelist, poet, playwright... Well, I've been all of them... I think poems and novels and stories spring from the same seed. It's not like, say, playing polo and knitting.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Spring #Thinking #America

  • So little time we live in Time, And we learn all so painfully, That we may spare this hour's term To practice for Eternity.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Time #Practice #May

  • What is man but his passion?
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Passion #Men #Enthusiasm

  • In one deep sense, novels are concealed autobiography. I don't mean that you are telling facts about yourself, but you are trying to find out what you really think or who you are.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Mean #Writing #Thinking

  • History is not melodrama, even if it usually reads like that.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #History #Melodrama

  • I've been to a lot of places and done a lot of things, but writing was always first. It's a kind of pain I can't do without.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Pain #Writing #Firsts

  • For what is a poem but a hazardous attempt at self-understanding: it is the deepest part of autobiography.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Self #Poetry #Understanding

  • History is all explained by geography.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Geography

  • This is not remarkable, for, as we know, reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events. We seem here to have a paradox: that the reality of an event, which is not real in itself, arises from the other events which, likewise, in themselves are not real. But this only affirms what we must affirm: that direction is all. And only as we realize this do we live, for our own identity is dependent upon this principal.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Real #Past #Identity

  • If you are an idealist, it does not matter what you do or what goes on around you because it isn't real anyway.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Real #Goes On #Matter

  • You have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have got to make it out of.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

  • A look at the past reminds us of how great is the distance, and how short, over which we have come. The past makes us ask what we have done with us. It makes us ask whether our very achievements are not ironical counterpoint and contrast to our fundamental failures.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Distance #Past #History

  • All I've tried to do (with my writing) is capture the essence of my time.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Writing #Essence #Capture

  • For life is a fire burning along a piece of string--or is it a fuse to a powder keg which we call God?--and the string is what we don't know, our Ignorance, and the trail of ash, which, if a gust of wind does not come, keeps the structure of the string, is History, man's Knowledge, but it is dead, and when the fire has burned up all the string, then man's Knowledge will be equal to God's Knowledge and there won't be any fire, which is Life. Or if the string leads to a powder keg, then there will be a terrific blast of fire, and even the trail of ash will be blown completely away.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Ignorance #Men #Wind

  • Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Reality #Past #Events

  • The past is always a rebuke to the present.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Past #History #Rebuke

  • ...the air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Morning #Heart #Light

  • It all began, as I have said, when the Boss, sitting in the black Cadillac which sped through the night, said to me (to Me who was what Jack Burden, the student of history, had grown up to be) "There is always something." And I said, "Maybe not on the Judge." And he said, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Night #Men #Judging

  • Nobody had ever told me that anything could be like this.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

  • Storytelling and copulation are the two chief forms of amusement in the South. They’re inexpensive and easy to procure.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Two #Amusement #Storytelling

  • Then after a long time Annie wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was a big girl and I was so much in love with her that I lived in a dream. In the dream my heart seemed to be ready to burst, for it seemed that the whole world was inside it swelling to get out and be the world. But that summer came to an end. Time passed and nothing happened that we had felt so certain at one time would happen.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Summer #Girl #Dream

  • Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something (All The King's Men)
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Kings #Men #Sin

  • If something takes too long, something happens to you. You become all and only the thing you want and nothing else, for you have paid too much for it, too much in wanting and too much in waiting and too much in getting.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Long #Waiting #Too Much

  • Just tell 'em you're gonna soak the fat boys and forget the rest of the tax stuff...Willie, make 'em cry, make 'em laugh, make 'em mad, even mad at you. Stir them up and they'll love it and come back for more, but, for heaven's sakes, don't try to improve their minds.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Boys #Mad #Laughing

  • [A]nd soon now we shall go out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, out of history into history and the awful responsibility of Time.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Responsibility #House #Awful

  • Tell me a story. / In this century, and moment, of mania, tell me a story. / Make it a story of great distances, and starlight. / The name of the story will be time, / But you must not speak its name. / Tell me a story of deep delight.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Distance #Names #Stories

  • ...by the time we understand the pattern we are in, the definition we are making for ourselves, it's too late to break out of the box. We can only live in terms of the definition, like the prisoner in the cage in which he cannot lie or stand or sit, hung up in justice to be viewed by the populace. Yet the definition we have made of ourselves is ourselves. To break out of it, we must make a new self. But how can the self make a new self when the selfness which it is, is the only substance from which the new self can be made?
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Lying #Self #Justice

  • Dirt's a funny thing,' the Boss said. 'Come to think of it, there ain't a thing but dirt on this green God's globe except what's under water, and that's dirt too. It's dirt makes the grass grow. A diamond ain't a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got awful hot. And God-a-Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it and made you and me and George Washington and mankind blessed in faculty and apprehension. It all depends on what you do with the dirt. That right?
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Blessed #Thinking #Funny Things

  • They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people there wouldn't be any you because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #People #Relation #Term

  • Politics is a matter of choices, and a man doesn't set up the choices himself. And there is always a price to make a choice. You know that. You've made a choice, and you know how much it cost you. There is always a price.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Men #Choices #Cost

  • I heard somebody open and shut the gate to the barn lot, but I didn't look around. If I didn't look around it would not be true that somebody had opened the gate with the creaky hinges, and that is a wonderful principle for a man to get hold of... What you don't know know don't hurt you, for it ain't real. They called that Idealism in my book I had when I was in college, and after I got hold of that principle I became an Idealist... If you are an Idealist it does not matter what you do or what goes on around you because it isn't real anyway.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Hurt #Real #Book

  • There was nothing particularly wrong with them; they were just the ordinary garden variety of human garbage.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Garden #Garbage #Ordinary

  • That summer we had been absolutely alone, together, even when people were around, the only inhabitants of the kind of floating island or magic carpet which being in love is.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Summer #Being In Love #Love Is

  • Process as process is neither morally good nor morally bad. We may judge results but not process. The morally bad agent may perform the deed which is good. The morally good agent may perform the deed which is bad. Maybe a man has to sell his soul to get the power to do good.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Men #Judging #Soul

  • More and more Emerson recedes grandly into history, as the future he predicted becomes a past.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Past

  • I don't expect you'll hear me writing any poems to the greater glory of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Writing #Glory #Nancy

  • Your business as a writer is not to illustrate virtue but to show how a fellow may move toward it or away from it.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Moving #May #Vices

  • America was based on a big promise--a great big one: the Declaration of Independence. When you have to live with that in the house, that's quite a problem--particularly when you've got to make money and get ahead, open world markets, do all the things you have to, raise your children, and so forth. America is stuck with its self-definition put on paper in 1776, and that was just like putting a burr under the metaphysical saddle of America--you see, that saddle's going to jump now and then and it pricks.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Children #Self #America

  • If a man knew how to live he would never die.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Life #Men

  • Most writers are trying to find what they think or feel. . . not simply working from the given, but toward the given, saying the unsayable and steadily asking, "What do I really feel about this?
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Thinking #Trying #Asking

  • In separateness only does love learn definition.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Doe #Definitions

  • My only crime was being a man and living in the world of men, and you don't have to do special penance for that. The crime and the penance, in that case, coincide perfectly. They are identical.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Men #Special #Penance

  • There ain't anything worth doing a man can do and keep his dignity. Can you figure out a single thing you really please-God like to do you can do and keep your dignity? The human frame just ain't built that way.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Men #Way #Dignity

  • Goodness . . . You got to make it out of badness . . . Because there isn't anything else to make it out of.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Goodness #Badness

  • Dying--shucks! If you kin handle the living, what's to be afraid of the dying?
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Dying #Handle

  • The best luck always happens to people who don't need it.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #People #Luck #Needs

  • A young man's ambition is to get along in the world and make a place for himself-half your life goes that way, till you're 45 or 50. Then, if you're lucky, you make terms with life, you get released.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Ambition #Men #Age

  • Poets, we know, are terribly sensitive people, and in my observation one of the things they are most sensitive about is money.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #People #Sensitive #Poet

  • The poet is in the end probably more afraid of the dogmatist who wants to extract the message from the poem and throw the poem away than he is of the sentimentalist who says, Oh, just let me enjoy the poem.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Want #Messages #Poet

  • Maybe a man has to sell his soul to get the power to do good.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Men #Soul

  • The poem is not a thing we see; it is, rather, a light by which we may see.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Light #Poetry #May

  • We are the prisoners of history. Or are we?
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Prisoner

  • For whatever you live is life.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

  • There is no country but the heart.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Country #Heart

  • I reckon I am a smart aleck, but it is just a way to pass the time.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Smart #Way #Smart Aleck

  • For the truth is a terrible thing.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Truth Is #Terrible

  • To be an American is not...a matter of blood; it is a matter of an idea--and history is the image of that idea.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Blood #Ideas #Matter

  • How life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely ruffles the leaf of the willow.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Jewels #Toads #Crystals

  • Perhaps he had to be close in order to keep a reason for the things he did. To make the things he did be themselves Life. And not merely a delightful excercise of technical skill which man had been able to achieve because he, of all animals, had a fine thumb. Which is nonsense, for whatever you live is Life.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Life #Men #Animal

  • What if angry vectors veer Round your sleeping head, and form. There's never need to fear Violence of the poor world's abstract storm.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Fear #Sleep #What If

  • You don’t choose a story, it chooses you.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Stories

  • But for the present I would lie there and know I didn't have to get up, and feel the holy emptiness and blessed fatigue of a saint after the dark night of the soul. For God and Nothing have a lot in common. You look either one of Them straight in the eye for a second and the immediate effect on the human constitution is the same.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Lying #Blessed #Eye

  • How do poems grow? They grow out of your life.
    -- Robert Penn Warren

    #Poetry #Grows