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Allen Tate


Tate is mainly known as a poet but he did produce one excellent novel, the exquisite Civil War novel The Fathers. Tate was born in November 1899 in Winchester, Kentucky. He spent many of his summers as a boy in Virginia. His first formal schooling was in Nashville but, after that, as the family fortunes changed and they had to move, his education was wherever his family happened to be. Though he wrote poetry when young, he planned to be a musician and he attended Cincinnati Conservatory for a year. He entered Vanderbilt University in 1918. It was here that he first started writing poetry. It was also here he met a young professor called John Crowe Ransom, who was to have a profound influence on his poetry. Tate and Ransom were soon part of a group of poets called the Fugitives, which also included a young English instructor, Donald Davidson. This group was to have an important influence on regional, particularly, Southern poetry and criticism. Tate also made friends with several important writers, including Robert Penn Warren, Hart Crane, Louise Bogan and Laura Riding. It was while out riding with Warren that he met the young writer Caroline Gordon, whom he married shortly afterwards.

After their marriage, both Tate and Gordon tried to get their literary careers going. Tate was successful as both a critic and poet, though neither made him rich and Gordon and Tate had money problems all their lives. They helped out Hart Crane who was making no money but there was a quarrel between the Tates and Crane which led to a falling-out. At this time, he wrote his most famous poem, Ode to the Confederate Dead, one of the great American poems. To make money, they tried living a pastoral life, growing their own vegetables, but Tate soon got bored with this and he wrote a biography (Stonewall Jackson). When he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, he used the money to take the family to Paris, where he came into contact with both French (Julien Green, Valéry Larbaud) and US (Hemingway) writers.

On returning to the US in 1930, his brother, Ben, bought him an antebellum house in about one hundred acres of farmland and woods, overlooking the Cumberland River, near Clarksville, Tennessee (Tate and Gordon called it Benfolly, a reference not only to Ben but also to Gordon’s novel Penhally). It was at this time that Tate, along with Davidson, Ransom, Warren and others, produced I’ll Take My Stand, a defence of the Southern Agrarian way of life. They returned to France when Gordon was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, this time going to Toulon, where their friend Ford Madox Ford had found them a villa. Tate started work on a biography of Robert E. Lee (he was never to finish it).

In 1936 Tate started work on what was to be his only novel, The Fathers. They moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where they both taught at the Woman’s College, (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). Tate finished The Fathers on July 21, 1938 (the final action of the book takes place on July 21, 1861.) After writing The Fathers, Tate returned to writing poetry. In 1939, he was appointed Poet in Residence at Princeton. However, living in the East did not suit him. There are two troubles about my living in the East. First, I can’t write here. Second, I forget who I am. I had a nightmare recently in which I couldn’t remember my name. Gordon and Tate went down to Monteagle, Tennessee, to be with their friend Andrew Lytle. Tate started work on a sequel to The Fathers, which he was never to finish. However, he did write a lot of poetry at this time, in particular Seasons of the Soul.

In 1943 Tate accepted the post of poetry consultant at the Library of Congress and Gordon and Tate moved to Washington, D.C. While there, Tate was involved in discussions with various writers and officials to have Ezra Pound, who had worked for the Italians in the war, arrested rather than shot on sight. After the one year appointment ended, Tate accepted the post of editor of the Sewanee Review in Sewanee, Tennessee and he made it from a sleepy magazine to one of the leading English language journals. In 1945, Tate and Gordon divorced, only to remarry the following year. They sold Benfolly and settled in New York, where Tate had been appointed an editor with Henry Holt. In 1948 he became a lecturer at New York University. Tate and Gordon published a joint anthology called The House of Fiction and, in 1950, Tate followed Gordon into the Roman Catholic Church. In 1951 Tate became professor of English at the University of Minnesota, his first post with tenure.

In 1959, Gordon and Tate again divorced and Tate married the poet Isabella Gardner. They divorced in 1966 and Tate married one of his students, Helen Heinz. They had three children, though one died when young. Tate’s Collected Poems were published in 1977. He died in 1979. He will remembered mainly for his poetry and essays but his one novel should not be forgotten.

Books about Allen Tate

Ferman Bishop : Allen Tate
John Bradbury: The Fugitives: A Critical Account
Louise Cowan,: The Fugitive group: A Literary History
George Hemphill: Allen Tate
Radcliffe Squires: Allen Tate: A Literary Biography (the standard biography, though written before Tate’s death)
John Stewart: The Burden of Time: The Fugitives and Agrarians
Walter Sullivan: Allen Tate: a Recollection
Thomas A Underwood: Allen Tate

Other links

Allen Tate (1899-1979)
Allen Tate
Allen Tate
Allen Tate
Allen Tate in VQR

The Violence of Allen Tate


1923 The Golden Mean and Other Poems
1928 Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier (biography)
1928 Mr. Pope and Other Poems
1929 Jefferson Davis: His Rise and Fall (biography
1932 Poems: 1928-1931
1936 Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas
1936 The Mediterranean and Other Poems
1937 Selected Poems
1938 The Fathers
1941 Reason in Madness: Critical Essays
1942 The Language of Poetry
1943 The Vigil of Venus
1944 The Winter Sea: a Book of Poems
1947 Poems, 1920-1945: a Selection
1948 Poems: 1922-1947
1948 On the Limits of Poetry, Selected Essays: 1928-1948
1949 The Hovering Fly, and Other Essays
1950 Two Conceits for the Eye to Sing, If Possible: Poems
1953 The Forlorn Demon (essays)
1955 The Man of Letters in the Modern World; Selected Essays, 1928- 1955
1959 Collected Essays
1960 Poems
1968 Essays of Four Decades
1970 The Swimmers, and Other Selected Poems
1971 Six American Poets from Emily Dickinson to the Present: an Introduction
1972 The Translation of Poetry
1975 Memoirs and Opinions, 1926-1974
1976 Memories & Essays: Old and New, 1926-1974
1983 The Poetry Reviews of Allen Tate, 1924-1944
1997 Collected Poems, 1919-1976

Tate also edited a variety of publications, in particular:
1930 I’ll Take My Stand; the South and the Agrarian Tradition
1942 The Language of Poetry
1947 A Southern Vanguard