Ghostly Parallels

Robert Penn Warren and the Lyric Poetic Sequence

  • Author(s): Runyon, Randolph Paul
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2006-04-16
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $37.00 | Buy Now

America’s most eminent man of letters in his later years, and certainly one of the greatest Southern writers, Robert Penn Warren has increasingly come to be known for his poetry. Ghostly Parallels is a close examination of the heart of his poetic corpus-the eight collections published between 1935 and 1976: Thirty-Six Poems; Eleven Poems on the Same Theme; Promises; You, Emperors, and Others; Tale of Time; Incarnations; Or Else; and Can I See Arcturus from Where I Stand?

Ghostly Parallels shows how Warren constructed collections of poems based on common subjects and contexts and also contends that, while the poems are distinctive, taken together they reveal intricate patterns of theme, imagery, and diction within explicit sequences. Runyon demonstrates that Warren’s collections are integrated, well-crafted wholes, and each poem references its predecessor-sometimes in intriguingly self-referential ways. Runyon shows that despite the many changes in diction, tone, and subject that Warren underwent in his long career, his concern for writing his poems in such a way that they could reach out beyond themselves to other poems remained remarkably constant.

In the arrangement Warren gave them, his poems form “ghostly parallels”-an expression that appears in “The Return: An Elegy,” where they refer to the railroad tracks that bring the poet home to his dying mother. This return to the mother is a persistent leitmotif in the poems and forms the other major theme of this study: Warren’s personal poetic myth, in which such images as golden light and mirror images are signs of the mother’s presence as both Danae, mother of Perseus, and Medusa, whom Perseus confronted.

Through pursuing sequential patterns as well as echoes and myth, Ghostly Parallels brings a wealth of insights to the work of this prolific novelist, critic, and essayist. An important guide for undergraduate and graduate students alike, Ghostly Parallels will also appeal to anyone with an interest in Robert Penn Warren and southern literature.