| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
John Orley Allen Tate was born in Kentucky in 1899
and attended Vanderbilt University in 1918. There he was instructed by John
Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson, was a friend of Robert Penn Warren, and
helped to create The Fugitive (1922–25), the most influential poetry magazine
of literary modernism in the South. In 1924 he went to New York to become a
freelance writer; he wrote many book reviews and two biographies, Stonewall
Jackson (1928) and Jefferson Davis (1929). After the publication of Mr. Pope
and Other Poems (1928), Tate received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he spent
in Europe among the American expatriate literary community. He returned to live
in the South, where he contributed to I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the
Agrarian Tradition (1930), the expression of the conservative movement known as
Southern Agrarianism. This period in his life culminated in the publication of
a historical novel of Civil War Virginia, The Fathers (1938). During the
mid-1930s he abandoned the life of a freelance writer and became a college
professor, most lastingly at the University of Minnesota (1951–68), with
periods as the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress (1943–44) and as
editor of the Sewanee Review (1944–46). During these later years, his
production of poetry declined markedly and he became most active as a literary
critic associated with the New Criticism—a movement more famously urged by his
friends Cleanth Brooks, Warren, and Ransom—and as a friend and patron of
younger poets such as Robert Lowell. In his retirement, he returned to
Tennessee, where he died in 1979.
began his career as an admirer of H. L. Mencken, who excoriated the South as a
cultural desert, moved to an interest in the French Symbolist poets (especially
Baudelaire), then became devoted to T. S. Eliot, whose merits Tate was among
the first to urge. Among the “Fugitive” poets, Tate pled the causes of
cosmopolitanism, freedom from inhibition, the impossibility of general truth,
and indifference to place. After having experienced New York and France, he
began to reconsider these standpoints, though he never completely abandoned
them. In “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” Tate began to explore his mature theme:
the delicate and fructifying tension between community and commitment on the
one hand, and alientation and self-awareness on the other. Beginning with his
essay “The Profession of Letters in the South” (1935) and continuing until “A
Southern Mode of the Imagination” (1959), Tate applied this theme to southern
literature, especially that of the Southern Renaissance.
felt that if modernity was to salvage sanity, the intellectual must by act of
will assert a meaningful social and religious order, almost irrespective of
whether he accepted the general truth of that order. In the late 1920s and
1930s, Tate gave more attention to the social problem, though even in I’ll Take
My Stand he was drawn to make “Remarks on the Southern Religion.” He argued
that agrarianism—as opposed to urban industrial capitalism—would better lead to
morality, prosperity, and community.
rapidly than most of his confederates, however, he began to minimize the southern
dimension of the cause by reaching out to other cultures. The Fathers was his
last sustained venture in considering southern culture; its theme was the
triumph of rapacious modernity over older traditions of noblesse oblige and
civility. After 1938 Tate abandoned the attempt to make the South a repository
of meaning and turned more strictly to religion; he converted to Roman
Catholicism in 1952. In a world that Tate believed to be spinning into
disorder, the forms of art seemed to him the nearest available, though very
inadequate, consolation and bulwark.
In the Heath Anthology
Ode to the Confederate Dead
Essays of Four Decades
Memoirs and Opinions 1926-1974
Collected Poems 1919-1976
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Modern American Poetry - Allen Tate
Brief biography, Tate's reflections on his work, secondary materials, and links.
The Academy of American Poets
Biography, bibliography, and a few of his poems.
Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Three Catholic Writers of the Modern South, 1985
Robert S. Dupree, Allen Tate and the Augustinian Imagination, 1983
Peter A. Huff, Allen Tate and the Catholic Revolt: Trace of the Fugitive Gods, 1996
Roger K. Meiners, The Last Alternatives, 1963
Radcliffe Squires, Allen Tate: A Literary Biography; Radcliffe Squires, ed., Allen Tate and His Work: Critical Evaluations, 1972