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Copy of Thedeathofjoncroweransom

Copy of Thedeathofjoncroweransom

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Reflections on the Death of John Crowe RansomAuthor(s): Allen TateReviewed work(s):Source:
The Sewanee Review,
Vol. 82, No. 4 (Fall, 1974), pp. 545-551Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 09/06/2012 16:23
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REFLECTIONSONTHE DEATH
OFJOHNCROWE RANSOM
ALLEN T?TE
JOHNCROWERANSOMdiedonJuly3,fifty-fouryearsafterthe firstissueoftheFugitiveappeared.DonaldDavidsondiedin1968.RobertPennWarren andIareleftofthemenwhobecamepoet-criticsandwhoseliveswerepowerfullyinfluencedbyJ.C.R.Iwouldsay,withYeats,thatIamaccustomedtohislack ofbreath,butitwillbehardertobelievethathenolongeroccupiesspace,silentandunknowingashewasinthelastfewyears.Nowwemayignore,aswe seefit,the destructiverevisionswhich thisgreatelegiacpoetinflicteduponmanyofhisfinestpoems.I wroteandgaveasaspeechatKenyonCollegeaeulogyofJohnonhiseightiethbirthday.Ihopethe readerwillunderstanditwhenIsaythatIdidn't likehimwhileIwashisstudent. Thatwas morethanfiftyyearsago.Ithoughthimcold,calculating,andhighlycompetitive.Icansaythisbe
causeI,too,wascalculatingandcompetitive,andIwasarro
gantenoughashisstudent,andevenlater,untilabout1930,tothinkIwasarival!ButIwasnot,likehim,cold: Iwascalidusjuventa,runningoverwithviolentfeelings,usuallydirectedatmyunhappyfamily?unhappybecausemyfatherhadhumiliatedus;andnowthatIwasincollegetherewas
 
546ONTHEDEATHOFRANSOMnotenoughmoneytoseemethrough.(MybrotherBensaidmanyyearslaterthatwe werebroughtupwithsilverspoonsinourmouthsandwereexpectedtoeatthespoons.)MydislikeofJohnwasmyfearofhim.Hehadperfectselfcontrol;Icouldseehimflush withanger,buthislanguagewasalwaysmoderateand urbane.Iwasjusttheopposite,andsomeofmydislikecameofmy exposuretohiscriticalglance.Hispatiencewithmyirregularbehavioronlymadehisdisapprovalthemoretelling.Whatdisturbedandchallengedmemostwasmysenseof thelogicalproprietyofhisattitudetowardhisstudents.Heneverrebukedus;hissubtlewithdrawalofattentionwasmorepowerfulthanreproach:herefusedtobeovertlyawareofourlapses.Logicwasthe modeofhisthoughtandsensibility.Itlimitedhiscriticism toakindofneoclassicism,butitcontained,as"structure,"hispoetry;andthusthe defect oftheonebecame thevirtueoftheother.Ihaveforyearswonderedhowsuchanacuteintelligencecouldseriouslyconsideranyformulaforpoetry,andIamstillamazedthatJohnRansom,ofallpeople,couldcomeupwith "structure"and"texture"asacriticalmetaphor.AftertheelaborateessaysinKantianphilosophicalaesthetics,thesimplestructure-textureformulaisasad anticlimax?assadasthelate YvorWinters's
formula.Winterssaid,oversomethirtyyears,that "thecon
ceptmotivatesthe emotion."Ican'tpausehereforadiscussionofthesetwofamousprescriptiveshortcutstothemeaningofpoetry;andIshallmerelyindicatetheirsimilaritytoasomewhatlessfamousformulathat thesingleword "ten
sion"conceals.Itisnot,ofcourse,tensionintheordinary
sense,thoughcertainpoemsmaybedescribedas"intense."Whattheinventorofpoetic"tension" hadinmindwasapseudo-eruditepun;thatis,hedroppedtheprefixesofthelogicaltermsextensionandintension,andhadtensionde

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