NOW AND THEN
Robert Penn Warren
This small book is a showcase for the many varieties of Robert Penn Warren's talent, proving not only that the talent is still very much alive, but that the man using it is the same man. The volume contains some of the vivid, neatly rhymed ballads Warren made so much his own in earlier years. "Here [in the graveyard] the Indian crouched to perfect his arrowhead./ And there was a boy, long after, who gathered such things/ Among shiny new tombstones recording the first-planted dead,/ Now and then looking up at a buzzard's high sun-glinting wings. . . . " And there are disquisitions, free-form but not formless, on topics as various as landscapes (New England, Greece), tennis shoes, old flames. In every poem the poet's mind is focused on eternity and its relation to time--on what may be constant, in the body or the universe. The first poem, "American Portrait: Old Style," is "about" a man going back to the scene of his childhood hopes and happenings. It ends: ". . . And the world's way is yet long to go,/ And I love the world even in my anger,/ And love is a hard thing to outgrow." Near the book's close comes what is probably its most gripping and memorable piece, "Heart of the Backlog." No shotguns here, no rabid dogs, no moral blows to the solar plexus. Only the poet reflecting by the fire one deep winter night on his own comfort, the owl whose hunting call he hears, the small furry vole he imagines in the snow, and their mortal encounter. Now and then--then and now--reads the title, its occasional tone complementing the weight of the classic questions raised. This is a book to please the poet's many admirers. It is also for those who think poetry boring or "difficult," because its impact is immediate, to be felt as well as pondered.