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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Allen Tate
(1899-1979)


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.

Tate 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.

Tate 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.

More 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.

Michael O’Brien
Miami University


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
Ode to the Confederate Dead (1928)  [n.b., 1937]

Other Works
The Fathers (1938)
Essays of Four Decades (1968)
Memoirs and Opinions 1926-1974 (1975)
Collected Poems 1919-1976 (1977)



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Links

Modern American Poetry - Allen Tate
(http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/tate/tate.htm)
Brief biography, Tate's reflections on his work, secondary materials, and links.

The Academy of American Poets
(http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?prmID=16)
Biography, bibliography, and a few of his poems.


Secondary Sources

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





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