Poetic Creation

Language and the Unsayable in the Late Poetry of Robert Penn Warren

  • Author(s): Van Dyke, John C.
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2021-04-08
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Hardcover - Printed Case: Price $45.00 | Buy Now


Though perhaps best known for his 1947 Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren’s final phase of poetry from the 1960s through the 1980s demonstrates a maturity of thought not previously seen in his work. By wrestling with the fundamental questions of language and articulation throughout his work in this period, Warren seeks to understand how the poet can “say the unsayable.”

Poetic Creation is John C. Van Dyke’s plunge into this liminal moment in Warren’s career, exploring Warren’s poetry from his 1969 Audubon: A Vision through his later works. By reading this late poetry in light of several of Warren’s critical essays—most notably his work on Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner—Van Dyke traces the development of Warren’s struggle with language through his unrelenting attention to the act of poetic creation itself. Warren’s open confrontation with language is marked by a shift from utilizing language as a tool toward understanding it as a play of difference, locating his later poetic creation within a postmodern discourse on language and the unsayable. Questions about the power and limitations of language color Warren’s later poetry with an earnest struggle only hinted at in his earlier works.

Poetic Creation reads Robert Penn Warren’s later poetry in a unique way that places his work at the heart of contemporary discourses on language and the unsayable. Van Dyke invites the reader to return to the poems themselves to participate in Warren’s pursuit of poetry’s unique power to speak the unsayable into the world.

JOHN C. VAN DYKE holds a PhD in literature and theology from the University of Glasgow and has previously taught at Appalachian State University and King University.