Poetry Mountain

ALLEN TATE  
(1899-1979)

Home
Poetry Mountain: online journal
Contemporary Poets Archive
Classic Poets Archive
Literary Magazines
In-Print Poetry Books (Search)
Presses
Writing Contests
Award Winners
Funding Opportunities
Writing Programs
General Resources
For Students
For Teachers
About This Site

The Shadow Waters blog

Donate to Site

Contact Us
Found broken links?
Want something added?
Get our eNewsletter

 

Two Poems by Allen Tate
Tate's Commentary on his poem, "Ode to the Confederate Dead"
The Academy of American Poets: Allen Tate
Library of Congress: Poet Laureate Timeline

 

John Orley Allen Tate was an American poet, essayist, and social commentator, and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress , 1943 - 1944.

Allen Tate was born near Winchester, Kentucky the son of John Orley Tate, a businessman, and Eleanor Parke Custis Varnell. In 1916 and 1917 he studied the violin at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, then began attending Vanderbilt University in 1918 where he met fellow poet Robert Penn Warren. Warren and Tate were invited to join a group of young Southern poets under the leadership of John Crowe Ransom known as the Fugitive Poets and later as the Southern Agrarians. Tate contributed to the group's magazine The Fugitive and to the agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand published in 1930. He also joined Ransom to teach at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

In 1924 he moved to New York City where he met Hart Crane, with whom he had been exchanging correspondence for some time. During a summer visit with Warren in Kentucky, he began a relationship with Caroline Gordon, whom he married in New York in May 1925 Their daughter, Nancy, was born in September. He divorced Gordon in 1959 to marry the poet Isabella Gardner, and in 1966, he married Helen Heinz, his former student at the University of Minnesota. In 1967 Tate became the father of twin sons, one of whom died in an accident in 1968 after the family's move to Sewanee, Tennessee. A third son was born in 1969

In 1924 Tate began a four-year sojourn in New York City where he worked freelance for The Nation and mingled in the city’s literary social scene. He would some years later contribute to the conservative National Review as well.  1928 saw the publication of Tate's most famous poem "Ode To the Confederate Dead," which reveals many striking similarities--if not outright borrowings--to the poem "Ode to the Confederate Dead at Magnolia Cemetery" written by Civil War poet and South Carolina native, Henry Timrod. In 1928, he also published a biography Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier.  In 1929 he published a second biography Jefferson Davis: His Rise and Fall.

The 1930s found Tate back in Tennessee working on social commentary influenced by his agrarian philosophy. In addition to his work on I'll Take My Stand he published Who Owns America? which was a conservative response to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. During this time he also became the de facto associate editor of The American Review, which was published and edited by the fascist Seward Collins. Tate saw The American Review as an organ for popularizing the work of the Southern Agrarians, but he objected to Collins's open support of Mussolini and Hitler and condemned fascism in an article in The New Republic in 1936.  In 1938 he published his only novel, The Fathers, which drew upon the knowledge of his mother's ancestral home in Fairfax County, Virginia.  He was a poet in residence at Princeton University until 1942.  In 1942, he assisted novelist and friend Andrew Lytle in transforming The Sewanee Review, America's oldest literary quarterly, from a modest journal into one of the most prestigious in the nation. He and Lytle attended Vanderbilt together prior to collaborating at The University of the South.

He died in Nashville, Tennessee. His papers are at the Firestone Library at Princeton University.

----------------------------------------

Two Poems:

Ode to the Confederate Dead
  
Row after row with strict impunity
The headstones yield their names to the element,
The wind whirrs without recollection;
In the riven troughs the splayed leaves
Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament
To the seasonal eternity of death;
Then driven by the fierce scrutiny
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
They sough the rumour of mortality.

Autumn is desolation in the plot
Of a thousand acres where these memories grow
From the inexhaustible bodies that are not
Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row.
Think of the autumns that have come and gone!--
Ambitious November with the humors of the year,
With a particular zeal for every slab,
Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot
On the slabs, a wing chipped here, an arm there:
The brute curiosity of an angel's stare
Turns you, like them, to stone,
Transforms the heaving air
Till plunged to a heavier world below
You shift your sea-space blindly
Heaving, turning like the blind crab.

Dazed by the wind, only the wind
The leaves flying, plunge

You know who have waited by the wall
The twilight certainty of an animal,
Those midnight restitutions of the blood
You know--the immitigable pines, the smoky frieze
Of the sky, the sudden call: you know the rage,
The cold pool left by the mounting flood,
Of muted Zeno and Parmenides.
You who have waited for the angry resolution
Of those desires that should be yours tomorrow,
You know the unimportant shrift of death
And praise the vision
And praise the arrogant circumstance
Of those who fall
Rank upon rank, hurried beyond decision--
Here by the sagging gate, stopped by the wall.

Seeing, seeing only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire

Turn your eyes to the immoderate past,
Turn to the inscrutable infantry rising
Demons out of the earth they will not last.
Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp,
Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run.
Lost in that orient of the thick and fast
You will curse the setting sun.

Cursing only the leaves crying
Like an old man in a storm

You hear the shout, the crazy hemlocks point
With troubled fingers to the silence which
Smothers you, a mummy, in time.

The hound bitch
Toothless and dying, in a musty cellar
Hears the wind only.

Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea,
Seals the malignant purity of the flood,
What shall we who count our days and bow
Our heads with a commemorial woe
In the ribboned coats of grim felicity,
What shall we say of the bones, unclean,
Whose verdurous anonymity will grow?
The ragged arms, the ragged heads and eyes
Lost in these acres of the insane green?
The gray lean spiders come, they come and go;
In a tangle of willows without light
The singular screech-owl's tight
Invisible lyric seeds the mind
With the furious murmur of their chivalry.

We shall say only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire

We shall say only the leaves whispering
In the improbable mist of nightfall
That flies on multiple wing:
Night is the beginning and the end
And in between the ends of distraction
Waits mute speculation, the patient curse
That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps
For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.

What shall we say who have knowledge
Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act
To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave
In the house? The ravenous grave?

Leave now
The shut gate and the decomposing wall:
The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush,
Riots with his tongue through the hush--
Sentinel of the grave who counts us all! 

 

The Mediterranean
  
Where we went in the boat was a long bay
a slingshot wide, walled in by towering stone--
Peaked margin of antiquity's delay,
And we went there out of time's monotone:

Where we went in the black hull no light moved
But a gull white-winged along the feckless wave,
The breeze, unseen but fierce as a body loved,
That boat drove onward like a willing slave:

Where we went in the small ship the seaweed
Parted and gave to us the murmuring shore
And we made feast and in our secret need
Devoured the very plates Aeneas bore:

Where derelict you see through the low twilight
The green coast that you, thunder-tossed, would win,
Drop sail, and hastening to drink all night
Eat dish and bowl--to take that sweet land in!

Where we feasted and caroused on the sandless
Pebbles, affecting our day of piracy,
What prophecy of eaten plates could landless
Wanderers fulfill by the ancient sea?

We for that time might taste the famous age
Eternal here yet hidden from our eyes
When lust of power undid its stuffless rage;
They, in a wineskin, bore earth's paradise.

Let us lie down once more by the breathing side
Of Ocean, where our live forefathers sleep
As if the Known Sea still were a month wide--
Atlantis howls but is no longer steep!

What country shall we conquer, what fair land
Unman our conquest and locate our blood?
We've cracked the hemispheres with careless hand!
Now, from the Gates of Hercules we flood

Westward, westward till the barbarous brine
Whelms us to the tired land where tasseling corn,
Fat beans, grapes sweeter than muscadine
Rot on the vine: in that land were we born. 

 

 

 

Advertise With Us

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
     
     
 
 
    [Our biography was extracted and edited from wikipedia.org]      
 
Last Updated: Mon, July 17, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.