Reclaiming the Mother Figure: Biography, Psychoanalysis, and Subjectivity in Robert Penn Warren's Poetry

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Rivas, Sarah
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Middle Tennessee State University
Robert Penn Warren's poetry contains many significant mother figures; however, critics have largely overlooked these mothers, focusing instead on themes of fatherhood in Warren's poetry and on the manner in which Warren's relationship with his own father influenced his work. Though Warren's complex relationship with his father certainly impacted his poetry, his relationship with his mother Ruth Penn Warren was equally multifaceted, and parallels between the mothers of Warren's poetry and the life and character of Ruth Penn Warren are too marked too ignore. Reclaiming the mother figure in Warren's poetry and connecting these poetic mothers to Warren's personal experience can shed new critical light on entire collections such as Tale of Time (1966) and Being Here (1980). This study utilizes the works of Julia Kristeva, particularly Powers of Horror (1980) and Tales of Love (1983), as a critical and psychoanalytic framework from which to understand Warren's poetic preoccupation with motherhood. For Kristeva, the concept of motherhood is inherently tied to identity, subjectivity, and agency, themes to which Warren returns again and again throughout his poetry. This study demonstrates how Warren gains increased subjectivity as both a person and a poet through writing his mother into his poetry over the course of his career.
Kristeva, Mother, Poetry, Psychoanalysis, Robert Penn Warren, Ruth Penn Warren