Modern Man’s Disconnect from the Past: An Analysis of
Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead”
Less than thirty years after his death, Allen Tate has been relegated to the back porch of academic history. A revered poet, essayist, and social commentator in his day, Tate was a prolific writer—a genuine renaissance man, and an influential figure of both the Southern Renaissance and the modernist movement. He was appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of congress in 1943 (Poet Timeline). But Tate’s life was not without controversy. Even before his death in 1979, Tate’s contemporaries and critics had labeled him a “reactionary,” and though he remained popular in the South, his promotion of traditional agrarianism and his defense of the Confederate cause accelerated his descent into obscurity (Benfey). Throughout much of Tate’s work, we find a common theme: That modern man, as a result of industrialization, has become permanently disjoined from ancient traditions. In his most famous poem, “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” Tate poses the question: “How can the American South come to terms with past?” In an essay, entitled “Narcissus on Narcissus,” Tate declares, “The poem is about solipsism…about Narcissism, or any other “ism” that denotes the failure of the human personality to function objectively in nature and society…” To fully appreciate the emotional tug-of-war expressed in Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” one must first grasp the context in which it was written.
The South in which Allen Tate came of age was a region in limbo. The stains of civil war were still visible, not only in the land, but in the people themselves. The South had lost the war and had, in the process, gained an identity rooted in the commemoration of a “lost (Confederate) cause.” Although it was no longer the romanticized land of tradition, the South had managed to escape the dreaded industrial revolution of the North (Bruce, Cicero). Like many Southern parents,...
Cited: Benfey, Christopher. "The War Between the Tates." New Republic 224.23 (2001): 44.
Bruce, Cicero. "The Stand of Allen Tate." Modern Age 42.4 (2000): 331. Academic
Stanonis, Anthony. ""Take Him East Where Life Began"." Virginia Magazine of History
& Biography 112.1 (2004): 36-61
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