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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1589
AUTHOR: Robert Penn Warren (1905–89)
QUOTATION: If, in the middle of World War II, a general could be writing a poem, then maybe I was not so irrelevant after all. Maybe the general was doing more for victory by writing a poem than he would be by commanding an army. At least, he might be doing less harm. By applying the same logic to my own condition [consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress], I decided that I might be relevant in what I called a negative way. I have clung to this concept ever since—negative relevance. In moments of vain-glory I even entertain the possibility that if my concept were more widely accepted, the world might be a better place to live in. There are a lot of people who would make better citizens if they were content to be just negatively relevant.
ATTRIBUTION: ROBERT PENN WARREN, speech upon receipt of the 1970 National Medal for Literature, New York City, December 2, 1970.—Transcript, p. 1.
SUBJECTS: Relevance