poem index

About this poet

On November 19, 1899, John Orley Allen Tate was born in Winchester, Clarke County, Kentucky. He attended Vanderbilt University and graduated magna cum laude in 1922. He married the novelist Caroline Gordon in 1924.

Tate was a founding editor of The Fugitive, a magazine of verse published out of Nashville, Tennessee, from 1922 to 1925. The magazine was named for the Fugitives, a group of Southern poets which included Tate and several of his colleagues from Vanderbilt, including John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Donald Davidson, and Merrill Moore. The Fugitives were practitioners and defenders of formal technique in poetry and were preoccupied with the defending the traditional values of the agrarian South against the effects of urban industrialization.

Tate published his first book of poems, Mr. Pope and Other Poems (Minton, Balch & Company), in 1928. His early work reflects the influence by Baudelaire, Corbière, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Ezra Pound. In 1922, Tate read T. S. Eliot and discovered a kindred spirit. He admired Eliot's adherence to literary tradition and found Eliot's social and political concerns were similar to his own. Tate taught at several colleges and universities and was editor of The Sewanee Review from 1944 to 1947. He had a great influence not only as a critic but as a mentor to such younger poets as Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Randall Jarrell. From 1951 until his retirement he was a professor of English at the University of Minnesota. He died on February 9, 1979.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Collected Poems, 1919-1976 (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1977)
The Swimmers and Other Selected Poems (Oxford University Press, 1970)
Poems (Scribner, 1960)
Two Conceits for the Eye to Sing, If Possible (Cummington Press, 1950)
Poems, 1922-1947 (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948)
Poems, 1920-1945 (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1947)
The Winter Sea (Cummington Press, 1944)
Selected Poems (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937)
The Mediterranean and Other Poems (Alcestis Press, 1936)
Poems, 1928-1931 (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932)
Three Poems (1930)
Mr. Pope and Other Poems (Minton, Balch & Company, 1928)

Prose

Memoirs and Opinions, 1926-1974 (Swallow Press, 1975)
Essays of Four Decades (Swallow Press, 1968)
Collected Essays (Swallow Press, 1959)
The Man of Letters in the Modern World (Meridian Books, 1955)
The Forlorn Demon (Regnery, 1953)
The Hovering Fly (Cummington Press, 1949)
On the Limits of Poetry: Selected Essays, 1928-1948 (Swallow Press, 1948)
Reason in Madness (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1941)
The Fathers (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1938)
Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936)
Robert E. Lee (1932)
Jefferson Davis: His Rise and Fall (Balch & Company, 1929)
Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier (Balch & Company, 1928)

Ode to the Confederate Dead

Allen Tate, 1899 - 1979
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!

From Selected Poems by Allen Tate, published by Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright © 1937 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Used with permission.

Allen Tate

Allen Tate

Poet Allen Tate was a founding editor of The Fugitive and had a great influence as a critic and a mentor to younger poets

by this poet

poem

Quen das finem, rex magne, dolorum?

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