Ruth Kifer: A favorite poem

Robert Penn Warren

This poem by Robert Penn Warren speaks volumes to me with the opening lines. “The vision will come—the Truth be revealed—but not even in its vaguest nature you know—ah truth.” The poet speaks of eternal concepts of life—vision, truth, grace, virtue, and even death. Yet, he describes human understanding through existential images such as beds too wide, illicit meetings, crummy cafés, hospital rooms, surgical cuts, and blurred windows.

Ruth E. Kifer
University Library Dean
San Jose State University 


The vision will come—the Truth be revealed—but
Not even its vaguest nature you know—ah, truth

About what? But deep in the sibilant dark
That conviction irregularly

Gleams like fox-fire in sump-wood where,
In distance, lynx-scream or direful owl-stammer

Freezes the blood in a metaphysical shudder—which
Might be the first, feather-fine brush of Grace. Such

An event may come with night rain on roof, season changing
And bed too wide; or say, when the past is de-fogged

And old foot tracks of folly show fleetingly clear before
Rationalization again descends, as from seaward.

Or when the shadow of pastness teasingly
Lifts and you recollect having caught—when, when?—

A glint of the nature of virtue like
The electrically exposed white of a flicker’s

Rump feathers at the moment it flashes for the black thicket.
Or when, even, in a section of the city

Where no acquaintance would ever pass,
You watch snowflakes slash automobile lights

As you move toward the first
Illicit meeting, naturally at a crummy

Café. Your pace slows. You see her
Slip from the cab, dash for the door, dark fur coat

Collar up, head down. Inside,
As you order two highballs,

All eyes seem to focus on you. Drinks come, but
There is nothing to say. Hands

Do, damply, clasp—though no bed yet. Each stares
Into the other’s eyes, desire like despair, and doom

Grows slow, and fat, and dark, like a burgundy begonia.
Soon you will watch the pale silken flash

Of well-turned ankles beneath dark fur,
As she hurries away on her stolen time, cab-hunting, and the future

Scarcely breathes. Your chest is a great clot. Perhaps then.
Oh, no. It may not happen, in fact until

A black orderly, white-coated, on rubber soles, enters at 5 A.M.
The hospital room, suds and razor in hand, to shave,

With no word of greeting, the area the surgeon
Will penetrate. The robot departs. No one

Comes yet. Do not give up hope.
There is still time. Watch dawn blur the window.

Can it be that the vision has, long back, already come—
And you just didn’t recognize it?

Robert Penn Warren


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