Victor Strandberg (Part 2): On "Bearded Oaks"

The image of a body totally given over to the underwater realm recurs as the master metaphor in "Bearded Oaks," where a pair of lovers so intensely imagine the state of being dead as to achieve an hour's "practice for eternity." Although there is no hope in this undersea kingdom, neither is there fear or rage or contention:

All our debate is voiceless here,

As all our rage, the rage of stone;

If hope is hopeless, then fearless fear,

And history is thus undone.

For history to be undone is not at all a bad prospect for those to whom history represents merely a passage into a ruined world:

[....]

[T]he speaker in these poems—"Love's Parable," "Picnic Remembered," "Bearded Oaks," and "Monologue at Midnight"—has passed into such dread knowledge of naturalistic reality as to have attained the state James spoke of when "the self that consciously is can do absolutely nothing. It is completely bankrupt and without resource, and no works it can accomplish will avail." . . . "Bearded Oaks" goes still farther as its speaker spends his time intensely imagining what being dead is like, so as "To practice for eternity." In the submarine silence of this imagined state, "Passion and slaughter, ruth, decay / Descend, minutely whispering down," making hash of all human values: "All our debate is voiceless here, / As all our rage, the rage of stone; . . . And history is thus undone."

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Criticism Overview
Title Victor Strandberg (Part 2): On "Bearded Oaks" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Victor Strandberg Criticism Target Robert Penn Warren
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 21 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren
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