Authors: John Crowe Ransom

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet and critic

Author Works


Poems About God, 1919

Armageddon, 1923

Chills and Fever, 1924

Grace After Meat, 1924

Two Gentlemen in Bonds, 1927

Selected Poems, 1945, revised and enlarged 1963, 1969

Poems and Essays, 1955


I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, by Twelve Southerners, 1930 (with others)

God Without Thunder: An Unorthodox Defense of Orthodoxy, 1930

Topics for Freshman Writing, 1935

The World’s Body, 1938 (criticism)

The New Criticism, 1941 (criticism)

American Poetry at Mid-century, 1958 (with Delmore Schwartz and John Hall Wheelock)

Symposium on Formalist Criticism, 1967 (with others)

Beating the Bushes: Selected Essays, 1941-1970, 1972

Selected Letters of John Crowe Ransom, 1985 (Thomas Daniel Young and George Core, editors)

Edited Texts:

Studies in Modern Criticism from the “Kenyon Review,” 1951

The Kenyon Critics, 1967


John Crowe Ransom, besides being a fine poet in his own right, was perhaps the most influential critic in the United States in the mid-twentieth century. His influence stemmed from three sources: the examples he set in his own poetry; the pronouncements he made as the leader of two related but distinct literary movements, southern Agrarianism and the New Criticism; and the power of selection he exerted as the editor of the Kenyon Review. A college teacher since 1914 and a professor, first at Vanderbilt University and then at Kenyon College, starting in 1924, Ransom applied the principles of the New Criticism to the teaching of literature, challenging the older historical approach.{$I[AN]9810000391}{$I[A]Ransom, John Crowe}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Ransom, John Crowe}{$I[tim]1888;Ransom, John Crowe}

Ransom was born in Pulaski, Tennessee, on April 30, 1888, and he began his academic training at Vanderbilt, the original seat of the Southern Agrarians. He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1909, and then, after studying for four years as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, he returned to Vanderbilt as an instructor in English in 1914. There he remained, except for two years spent as a field artillery officer in France during World War I, until he moved to Kenyon in 1937.

His literary activity, which can be divided into two distinct parts (the poetic corresponding to the period at Vanderbilt, the critical to the one at Kenyon), began in 1919 with the publication of Poems About God. At Vanderbilt he helped to form the Fugitives, a group that came to be a significant presence within the Southern Renaissance in literature. He became one of the founders of the magazine The Fugitive, which he edited from 1922 until its demise in 1925. The previous year had marked the publication of Chills and Fever, one of his best volumes of poetry. In it he realized most fully his own critical conditions for a modern poetry of metaphysical wit, of clarity and restraint, and of a “perfect anonymity.” In 1925 he was also one of the “twelve southerners” who contributed to the Agrarian manifesto, I’ll Take My Stand.

Two other slim volumes of poetry appeared before his departure from Vanderbilt, but the publication of Chills and Fever was the high point of his work as a poet. The appearance of his Selected Poems in 1945 confirmed his reputation, and his receiving of the Bollingen Prize in Poetry and the Russell Loines Memorial Award from the American Institute of Arts and Letters in 1951 maintained it. Ransom’s influence also continued in the work of many critics and writers to whom he was a teacher and colleague, including Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and Cleanth Brooks.

BibliographyAbbott, Craig S. John Crowe Ransom: A Descriptive Bibliography. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1999. Abbott includes complete bibliographic information for each entry as well as an extensive physical description. He also includes the history of each work from conception to publication, making the book interesting to read as well as an important research tool.Gelpi, Albert. “Robert Frost and John Crowe Ransom.” In A Coherent Splendor: The American Poetic Renaissance, 1916-1950. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Gelpi stresses Ransom’s connection with Robert Frost; the two poets admired each other, and Frost helped to promote Ransom’s work. Includes a discussion of Ransom’s ideological views, as expressed in the Fugitive, the journal of the Southern Agrarians.Malvasi, Mark G. The Unregenerate South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. A critical study of the works of selected Agrarian writers of the southern United States, including Ransom. Bibliographical references, index.Pearce, Roy Harvey. The Continuity of American Poetry. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1987. In an earlier edition (1961), this work became a standard survey of American poetry. Pearce brings out the conflict in Ransom between insistence on realism and devotion to a particular vision of history and tradition.Suchard, Alan, et al. “Crosscurrents of Modernism.” In Modern American Poetry, 1865-1950. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. Suchard, although aware of Ransom’s merits, is restrained in his enthusiasm. He claims that Ransom’s devotion to New Criticism helped discourage innovation in American poetry.Turco, Lewis P. Visions and Revisions of American Poetry. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1986. Turco sees Ransom as an agonist: a poet who spends most of his time elaborating a theory of poetry. Turco calls Ransom an academic poet, a term he does not intend as praise.Waggoner, Hyatt H. “Irony and Orthodoxy.” In American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984. Waggoner notes Ransom’s witty, elegant language but claims that this serves mainly to cover up the precarious balance of his poetry and that Ransom was torn between devotion to tradition and realism.Wellek, René. “John Crowe Ransom.” In A History of Modern Criticism: American Criticism, 1900-1950. Vol. 6. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. A strong analysis of Ransom’s philosophy. Wellek claims that Ransom’s key thought is the contingency of the world. Wellek also clarifies Ransom’s dichotomy between structure and texture.
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