Authors: Allen Tate

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet and biographer


John Orley Allen Tate was born in Winchester, Kentucky, on November 19, 1899, the third son of Eleanor Varnell and John Orley Tate. His early education was somewhat sporadic, but in 1918 he entered Vanderbilt University, where he began to dedicate himself to literature in the company of such writers as John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, and Robert Penn Warren, with whom he was active in the Fugitive and Agrarian movements. In 1924 Tate married Caroline Gordon. In 1959 he married Isabella Gardner, and, in 1966, Helen Heinz.{$I[AN]9810000279}{$I[A]Tate, Allen}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Tate, Allen}{$I[tim]1899;Tate, Allen}

Best known as a poet, Tate is also the author of biographies of Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis as well as of The Fathers, a complex, brilliant novel set against the background of the Civil War. His many critical essays have constituted a shaping force in modern literature. In addition, he served as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (1943-1944), edited The Sewanee Review (1944-1945), and taught at several universities, including Princeton, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the University of Minnesota.

Tate’s earlier poetry, best represented by the famous “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” is classical in attitude as well as in execution. The ode is a profound meditation which transcends its nominal subject to treat the theme of the self’s struggles in a faithless era. Another major poem, “The Mediterranean,” parallels Tate’s interest in his own past with Aeneas’s search for a home after the fall of Troy. In later poetry, Tate softened the austerity of his classicism in poems which seek to integrate physical and imaginative vision; these efforts culminate in “The Maimed Man,” “The Swimmers,” and “The Buried Lake.”

As a critic, Tate has been identified with the New Critics, who argued for the autonomous nature of the literary work, the reading of which should not be influenced by knowledge external to the work itself. It should be noted, however, that his approach to literature did not employ the “scientific” method of such New Critics as I. A. Richards. In an almost Socratic fashion, Tate sought to unravel in detail the terms on which a literary work presents itself to a reader. Allen Tate’s essays and poems, each shedding light on the other, stand as major achievements in American literature.

BibliographyBishop, Ferman. Allen Tate. New York: Twayne, 1967. Though composed while Tate was still writing, Bishop’s book offers a good survey of his life and work up to that point; Tate’s final years did not change much. Includes chronology, detailed notes and references, and select bibliography.Brooks, Cleanth, and Allen Tate. Cleanth Brooks and Allen Tate: Collected Letters, 1933-1976. Edited by Alphonse Vinh. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998. A selection of letters that constitute a feisty and enjoyable account of the history of two leading participants in the literary critical wars during an era when the way to read and to teach poetry in the English language was being profoundly recast.Dupree, Robert S. Allen Tate and the Augustinian Imagination: A Study of the Poetry. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983. Dupree has accomplished here a thorough traversal of Tate’s poetry, but he does confine his attention to the poetry. His approach is methodical and comprehensive, disclosing ingenious insights. Includes an index, a bibliography, and notes.Hammer, Langdon. Hart Crane and Allen Tate. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Three chapters are devoted to Tate, the focus of the study being on the two poets’ relationship within the framing context of literary modernism. Includes bibliography, index.Huff, Peter A. Allen Tate and the Catholic Revival: Trace of the Fugitive Gods. New York: Paulist Press, 1996. Examines Tate in the context of the Catholic Revival following the “lost generation” post-World War I years. Tate incorporated the revival’s Christian humanism into his critique of secular industrial society.Malvasi, Mark G. The Unregenerate South: The Agrarian Thought of John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. Addresses these poets’ approaches to social issues including rural poverty, religion, race relations, and the effects of the New Deal on the twentieth century South, tracing the influence that their literary views had on their social and political thought. Two chapters are devoted to Tate. Index.Meiners, P. K. Everything to Be Endured: An Essay on Robert Lowell and Modern Poetry. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1970. Although not primarily concerned with Tate, this eighty-nine-page essay reveals much about him and his impact on mid-twentieth century poetry. Because it offers no bibliography, its usefulness is limited, but some of the insights into Tate remain unsurpassed.Squires, Radcliffe. Allen Tate: A Literary Biography. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971. Written before Tate’s death, this book is primarily a writing biography–that is, it considers the life of the writer with reference to his writings. Benefits from the personal acquaintance of Squires with Tate. Contains much anecdotal material, bibliography, indexes, and notes.Squires, Radcliffe, ed. Allen Tate and His Work: Critical Evaluations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972. Squires here assembles essays on all phases of Tate’s writing, editing, teaching, and life. Contains a bibliography.Stewart, John Lincoln. The Burden of Time: The Fugitives and the Agrarians. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965. This study focuses more on the intellectual movements associated with Tate than on Tate himself. Because, however, these movements formed a large part of his life, they are revealing. Includes substantial comments on both poetry and criticism, and the coverage is thorough and deep. Includes footnotes and a bibliography.Underwood, Thomas A. Allen Tate: Orphan of the South. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. A biographical study of Tate and his part in the Agrarian and Fugitive movements. Includes bibliographical references and index.
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