Spring 1943 • Vol. V No. 2 NonfictionApril 1, 1943 |

Pure and Impure Poetry

Critics are rarely faithful to their labels and their special strategies. Usually the critic will confess that no one strategy--the psychological, the moralistic, the formalistic, the historical--or combination of strategies, will quite work the defeat of the poem. For the poem is like the monstrous Orillo in Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato. When the sword lops off any member of the monster, that member is immediately rejoined to the body, and the monster is as formidable as ever. But the poem is even more formidable than the monster, for Orillo's adversary finally gained a victory by an astonishing feat of dexterity: he slashed off both the monster's arms and quick as a wink seized them and flung them into the river. The critic who vaingloriously trusts his method to account for the poem, to exhaust the poem, is trying to emulate this dexterity: he thinks that he, too, can win by throwing the lopped-off arms into the river. But he is doomed to failure. Neither fire nor water will suff

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Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) was one of the preeminent authors of the twentieth century: a poet, novelist, and literary critic who was one of the founders of New Criticism. He earned a master's degree at the University of California, studied at New College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar; he taught at Vanderbilt, Louisiana State, the University of Minnesota, and Yale University. Warren was a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He received the Pulitzer Prize three times, for All the King's Men (1946) and for poetry (1958 and 1979). Three years before his death, he was appointed the first poet laureate of the United States.

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Hemingway

By Robert Penn Warren

Critics are rarely faithful to their labels and their special strategies. Usually the critic will confess that no one strategy--the psychological, the moralistic, the formalistic, the historical--or combination of strategies, […]

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