Manual The Unregenerate South: The Agrarian Thought of John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson

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View Preview. Learn more Check out. Volume 29 , Issue 1 March Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. Browse All Figures Return to Figure. Previous Figure Next Figure. Email or Customer ID. Forgot password? Old Password. New Password. Password Changed Successfully Your password has been changed. Returning user. Request Username Can't sign in? Forgot your username? How much agreement was there among them?

The four collected above papers point up and even accentuate their divergence, investigating wide-ranging and, at least on the surface, incommensurate aspects of their thought. What does it say, if anything, about their theories? As one can surely see, these papers raise significant questions to be asked about this group of thinkers—and, to be just, we must include in our speculations the writing of one of their most committed members, Donald Davidson.

First of all, we must ask, were they a school of thought at all? Second, if so, what was their attitude toward the Old South? Did they make the idolatrous mistake Mark Malvasi and others attribute to them of raising the South to the status of the heavenly city? Is it mythic, metaphorical, utopian? Finally, and perhaps most crucial to the endurance of their contribution, does the significance of the Agrarian movement lie in its political thought?

Or, alternatively, in its literary implications? And perhaps the last query demands first consideration. Without doubt the most productive and influential Agrarians were serious poets—the so-called Fugitives, Ransom, Tate, Davidson, and Warren. All four went on to become major critics and in a sense spokesmen for the movement. Are we not obliged to recognize that the habit of thought of this group was likely to be analogical, synecdochic, and metaphorical, rather than literal?

And yet, in so doing, are we relegating them entirely to the realm of make-believe? For, as we must confess, in dealing with the thought of the Agrarians, we are still hampered in labeling them by having no category in which to place them. Their argument remains not really economic or political; nor is it, despite certain tendencies, theological. And still further, it is not a romantic dream vision of an ideal state. The essential issue to be settled then concerns the kind of knowledgethat theAgrarian movement provides.

If their concerns were not literal, that is, if they were not actually defending a political and economic system, what were these intrepid Southerners doing? Were they in fact utopian? Or, to use another label persistently applied to them: was their vision a version of pastoral? But statements of the Agrarians refuting this sort of position are to be found throughout their work.

Their position seems similar, rather, to the responsible poetic stance taken by Aeschylus, or Sophocles, or Virgil. In the next to last stanza he writes:. Through this brief consideration of the third question—the one concerning the mode of thought represented by the Agrarians—we can turn finally to the first question. And in answer to the second question—their relation to the South—I think we would have to parry that it was complex indeed. Squealing for cookies, kinned by poor pretense With a noble house. But the little man quite dead, I see the forbears' antique lineaments. The elder men have strode by the box of death To the wide flag porch, and muttering low send round The bruit of the day.

O friendly waste of breath! Their hearts are hurt with a deep dynastic wound. He was pale and little, the foolish neighbors say; The first-fruits, saith the Preacher, the Lord hath taken; But this was the old tree's late branch wrenched away. Grieving the sapless limbs, the shorn and shaken. Go listen to your teachers old and contrary Without believing a word.

Practise your beauty, blue girls, before it fail; And 1 will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power shall never establish. It is so frail. For I could tell you a itory which is true; I know a lady with a terrible tongue, Blear eyes fallen from blue. All her perfections tarnished — yet it is not long Since die was lorelier than any of you. Tom the Piper's Soo.

And quick that talk was gone. And prompt I showed as the bell's last throb appointed In the loud and litten room Unbailed by the love that leaps to the Heir Anointed, "Hush, O hush, he is come! And I think Cooxad knows it well. Nursing his knees, too rfaeumy and cold To wann the wraith of a Forest of Ardeo. Neuralgia in the back of his neck. His kttigs ftlling with such miasma. His feet dipping in leafage and muck: Gxuad! GKUid's house has thick red walls.

Slippers and pipe and tea are served, Baiter and toast are meant for pleasing! Still Gmrad's back is not uncurvcd And here's an autumn on him, teasing. Autumn days in our section Are the most used-up thing on earth Or in the waters under the earth Having no more color nor predilectioa Than cornstalks too wet for the fire, A ribbon rotting oo the byre, A nun's face as weathered as straw Bf the soffiiner's flare and winter's flaw.

Dawn lightened the place where the battle had been won. The people were dead — it is easy he thought to die — These dead remained, but the living all were gone, Gone with the wailing trumps of victory. The dead wore no raiment against the air, Bartholomew's men had spoiled them where they fell; In defeat the heroes' bodies were whitely bare, The field was white like meads of asphodel. Not all were white; some gory and fabulous Whom the sword had pierced and then the grey wolf eaten; But the brother reasoned that heroes' flesh was thus.

Flesh fails, and the postured bones lie weather-beaten. The lords of chivalry lay prone and shattered. The gentle and the bodyguard of yeomen; H. Beneath the blue ogive of the firmament Was a dead warrior, clutching whose mighty knees Was a leman, who with her flame had warmed his tent. For him enduring all men's pleasantries. Close by the sable stream that purged the plain Lay the white stallion and his rider thrown. The great beast had spilled there his little brain, And the little groin of the knight was spilled by a stone. Then he sat opoo a hill ana bowed his head As under a riddle, and in a deep surmise So still that he likened himself unto those dead Whom the kites of Heaven solicited with sweet cries.

She woke then And thought about her dainty- feathered hen. To see how it had kept. One kiss she gave her mother. Only a anall one gave die to her daddy Who would have kisaed each curl of his shining baby; No kiss at all for her brother.

Partial, Passionate, Political: Writing Criticism in Troubled Times

Running across die world upon the grass To Chodcy's bouse, and listening. But alas, Her Quifkv haJ tlied. It was J tf. It scarcely bled. Now the poor comb stood up straight But Chucky did not. So there was Janet Kneeling on the wet grass, crying her brown hen Translated far beyond the daughters of men To rise and walk upon it. And weeping fast as she had breath Janet implored us, "Wake her from her sleep! Your ears are soft and small And listen to an old man not at all, They want the young mens whispering and sighing.

But sec the roses on your trellis dying And hear the spectral singing of the moon; For I must have my lovely lady soon, I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying. But what grey man among the vines is this Whose words are dry and faint as in a dream. Sir, before I scream! I am a lady young in beauty waiting. Exhaling my foreign weed on its weighted air.

Each time of seeing I absorbed some other feature Of a house whose legend could in no wise be brief Nor ignoble, for it expired as sweetly as Nature, With her tinge of oxidation on autumn leaf. It was a Sotttbem manor. One need hardly imagine Towers, white nwnoliths, or even ivied walls; But sufficient state if its peacock was a pigeon; Where oo coorts held, but grave rites and funerals.

Decay was the tone of old brick and shingle. Its exits and cntmncw loiting tibe children of man. Will not forever be dnss, O man, exhibited. And one had best hurry to enter it if ooe can. Or crumbs of history dropping from their great store. But it came to nothing — and may so gross denial. Which has been deplored duly with a beating of the breast. Never shorten the tired historian, loyal To acknowledge defeat and discover a new quest — The old mistress was ill, and sent my dismissal By one even more wrappered and lean and dark Than that warped concierge and imperturbable vassal Who bids you begone from her master's Gothic park.

Emphatically, the old house crumbled; the ruins Would litter, as already the leaves, this petted sward; And no annalist went in to the lord or the peons; The antiquary would finger the bits of shard. But on retreating I saw myself in the token, How loving from my foreign weed the feather curled On the languid air; and I went with courage shaken To dip, alas, into some unseemlier world.

Ah, but our numbers are not felicitous. It goes not liquidly for us. The njgKrtngile descanted unto Ovid; She has even appeared to the Teutons, the swilled and gravid; At Fontaincbleau it nuy be the bird was gallidzed; Never was she baptited. To England came Philomela with her pain.

Fleeing the hawk her husband; querulous ghost. Utters herself in the original again. The untranslatable refrain. Not to these shores she came! I pemoctated with the Oxford students once. And in the quadrangles, in the cloisters, on the Cher, Preoocioasly knocked at antique doon ajar. Fatuously touched the hems of the hierophanti, Sick of my dissonaiKe. I went out to Bagley Wood, I climbed the hill; Even the moon had shutted off in a twinkling.

The diutumity was still. Up from the darkest wood where Phikxnela lat. Her fatiy oamben iasoed. What then ailed me? My cars are called capadoos bat they failed me, Her chMiia icginacd a little flat! I rose, and venomously spat. Thy fabulous provinces belong. And if he had had not water on his brain. Remember what joys were his. The complete landlubber In a green mackintosh and overshoes of rubber — Putting his umbrella up against the rain For fear of the influenza — sleeking his curls — Prowling among the petticoats and the teacups — Visiting the punchbowl to the verge of hiccups — Breaching his promises and playing with the girls.

At length in grey spats he must cross the ocean. So this is Paris? Lafayette, we are here. Bring us sweet wines but none of your French beer. And he weeps on Notre Dame with proper emotion. This is the Rive Gauche, this is the Hotel Crillon. Where are the brave poilus. Who is the geotkman whose teeth are so large. Crocodile the renowned aesthete. To know England really one must try the country And the week-end parties; he is persuaded to straddle A yellow beast in a red coat on a flat saddle. Much too gymnastical are the English gentry. Purely a Scotch and soda with the Balliol men.

Crocodile pooden the marrying of a wife. She hu a readynnade fortune and ready-made family; The lady is not a poem but she is a homily. But he hates the rectangular charms of the virtuous life. This is a clean life without mud and muss. But who would ever have thought it took such strength To whittle the tree of being to a point While the deep-sea urge cries Largo, and every joint Tingles with gross desire of lying at length? Of all the elements mixed in Crocodile Water is principal; but water flows By paths of least resistance; and water goes Down, down, down; which is too infantile.

The earth spins from its poles, and is glared on By the fierce incessant suns, but here is news For a note in the fine-print column of the Thursday Reviews: Old Robert Crocodile is packed up and gone. His dear friends cannot find him. The ladies write As usual but their lavender notes are returned By the U.

Postmaster and secretively burned. He has mysteriously gone out of sight.

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Crocodile hangs his pretty clothes on a limb And lies with his fathers, and with his mothers too, And his brothers and sisters as it seems right to do; The family religion is good enough for him. Full length he lies and goes as water goes. He weeps for joy and welters in the flood. Floating he lies extended many a rood, And quite invisible but for the end of his nose.

It was a pretty lady and all her train That played with him so sweetly but before An hour dte'd taken a sword with all her main And twined him of his nose for evermore. But drew upon him out of his great heart Hie other swung against him with a club And cracked his two legs at the shinny part And let him roll and stick like any tub. Captain Carpenter rode many a time From male and female took he sundry harms He met the wife of Satan crying "I'm The Ae-wolf bids you shall bear no more arms.

And Captain Carpenter parted with his ears To a black devil that used him in this wise O jestts ere his threeaooce and ten years Another had plocked cot his tweet bine eyes. The rogue in scarlet and grey soon knew his mind He wished to get his trophy and depart With gentle apology and touch refined He pierced him and produced the Captain's heart God's mercy rest on Captain Carpenter now I thought him Sirs an honest gentleman Citizen husband soldier and scholar enow Let jangling kites cat of him if they can. Alooe in the press of people traveled he. Minding her jadnth. Mouth he remembered : the quaint orifice From which came heat that flamed upon the kiss.

Grev doves from the offidotts tower i lisped. Body: it was a white held ready lor lovc, On her body's field, with the gaunt tower above. The lilies grew, beseeching him to take, If he would pluck and wear them, bruise and break. But what they said, the doves came straightway flying And unsaid: Honor, Honor, they came aying. Impoctnnate her doves. Too pure, too wise, dainbering on his shoulder, saying. Eternal distance now command thy feet. Predicament indeed, which thus discovers Honor among thieves. Honor between lovers. But the grey word is between them cold as steel.

At length I saw these lovers fully were come Into their torture of equilibrium; Dreadfully had forsworn each other, and yet They were bound each to each, and they did not forget. And rigid as two painful stars, and twirled About the clustered night their prison world. They burned with fierce love always to come near, But honor beat them back and kept them clear.

Ah, the strict lovers, they are ruined now! But with puddled brow Devising for those gibbeted and brave Came I descanting: Man, what would you have? For spin your period out, and draw your breath, A kinder saeculum begins with Death. Would you ascend to Heaven and bodiless dwell.? Or take your bodies honorless to Hell? In Heaven you have heard no marriage is.

No white flesh tinder to your lecheries. Your male and female tissue sweetly shaped Sublimed away, and furious blood escaped. Great lovers lie in Hell, the stubborn ones Infatuate of the flesh upon the bones; Stuprate, they rend each other when they kiss, The pieces kiss again, no end to this. Their ftames were not more radiant than their ice. Let them lie perilous amd beautiful.

The body bears the head So hardly one they terribly are two Feeds and obeys and unto please what end? Not to the glory of tyrant head but to The estate of body. Beauty is of body. The flesh contouring shallowly on a head Is a rock-garden needing body's love And best bodiness to colorify The big blue birds sitting and sea-shell flats And caves, and on the iron acropolis To spread the hyacinthine hair and rear The olive garden for the nightingales.

Tawny are the leaves turned but they still hold, Aiiii It 15 harvest; what shall this land produce? A meager hill of kernels, a runnel of juice; Dn tension looks from our land, it is old. Therefore let us assemble, dry, grey, spare. And mild u yeUow air. I hear the croak of a raven's funeral wing. What is it thus rehearsed in sable.

We pbdc d e spindling ears and gather the corn. One spot has special yield. Ample are the chambers of their hearts. The treasure is lull bronze VCluch you will garner tor the Lady, and the moon Could tinge it no yellower than docs this noon; But grey will quench it shortly — the field, men, stonef. Pluck fast, dreamers; prove as you amble slowly Not less than men, not wholly.

Bare the arm, dainty youths, bend the knees Under bronze burdens. And by an autumn tone As by a grey, as by a green, you will have known Your famous Lady's image; for so have these; And if one say that easily will your hands More prosper in other lands. Angry as wasp-music be your cry then: "Forsake the Proud Lady, of the heart of fire, The look of snow, to the praise of a dwindled choir, Song of degenerate specters that were men? The sons of the fathers shall keep her, worthy of What these have done in love. But see, if you peep shrewdly, she hath not stooped; Take no thought of her servitors that have drooped.

For we are nothing; and if one talk of death — Why, the ribs of the earth subsist frail as a breath If but God wearieth. I analysed the wreckage of the year — The smitten leaf, the leering buck-eye's burial. Your drooping cheeks; when, lo, down there The river broug it misfortunate memorial: I saw within the jesting water's marge Your soft young face blur out with age, and after Gxne wrinkles in the mirror's quiet surge. To move the poplar leaves and me to laughter.

But terror favored your stare like the grey stone, A tremor Aook yon, yoa wept, and the glory was gone. And I had read of the white swans at Coole, And heard the printed voice of the skylark. The skies were lifted quick from this dull place; Like Lohengrin I heard a silver bell. I saw the maiden Leda's neat disgrace; My vision beat historic wings — and felL For what of the albatross and the wild swan.

Skirting a black sea patch on a salty morn, While I stand empty — and the voices are gone — And you cram peanuts and the white popcorn. I have not known the swan song, though my prayer Has beat with cygnet wings no slight emotion To find inanity itself astare, A goitered goose upon a festered ocean. And what of Eve, Semiramis, and Sappho? It is enough — the tale brings tragic hush. There was a time — but it was long ago! Perhaps old Moses saw the burning bush.

And more devotedly inclined Than these diy Kotences reveal That bceak in erode shards from my mind. It cocncsi it pierces me like steel.

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It flames, but I can utter naught The soul, so struggling to upheave Its changeful aelf , the wistful me. Is caught in Ubyrinthean ways And tangled irrevocably. And am I wocth the guess you make? O fact so digged in circumstance! It surely is not known to me. And you must take my Self on chance. Recite therewith the flame of victories: How out of blood and dust I gathered mirth; And was content to find in flesh and earth Strange ecstasies.

But most recite what made me captive here. Weighted with stone, wrapped in a sluggard's peace, And ask of men if this is God's release Or only his fear. Hearing the voices Whisper, Hush, it is General Lee! And strangely Hearing my own voice say. Good morning, boys.

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You are early. It is long Before the bell. You will have long to wait On these cold steps. The young have time to wait But soldiers' faces under their tossing flags Lift no more by any road or field. And I am spent with old wars and new sorrow. It is not General Lee, foung noen. It is Robert Lee in a dark civilian suit who walks. An outlaw fumbling for the latch, a voice Conunanding m a dream where no flag flies. My father's house is taken and his hearth Left to the candle-dripptngs where the ashes Whirl at a chimney-breath on the cold stone.

I can hardly remember my father's look, I cannot Answer his voice as he calls farewell in the misty Mounting where riders gather at gates. He was old then — I was a child — his hand Held out for mine, some daybreak snatched away,! Now let looe grave keep, surer than cypress roots. The vow I made beside him.

God too late Unseals to certain eyes the drift Of time and the hopes of men and a sacred cause. The fortune of the Lees goes with the land Whose sons will keep it still. My mother Told me much. Why did my father write. What I do b only a son's devoir Tn a loft father. And never heard the long Confederate cry Charge through the muzzling smoke or saw the bright Eyes of the beardless boys go up to death.

It is Robert Lee who writes with his father's hand — The rest must go unsaid and the lips be locked. The waves of grain begin. The Shenandoah is golden with new grain. The Blue Ridge, crowned with a haze of light. Thunders no more. The horse is at plough. The rifle Returns to the chimney crotch and the hunters hand.

And nothing else than this? Was it for this That on an April day we stacked our arms Obedient to a soldier's trust? To lie Ground by heels of little men. Forever maimed, defeated, lost, impugned? And was I then betrayed? Did I betray? If it were said, as still it might be said — If it were said, and a word should run like fire, Like living fire into the roots of grass.

The sunken flag would kindle on wild hills. The brooding hearts would waken, and the dream Stir like a crippled phantom under the pines. Amoog these bojrs whose ejes lift up to mine Within gray walls where droning wasps repeat A hollow reveille I still must face, Daj after daj, the courier with his summons Ooce more to saneoder, now to surrender alL Without arms or men I stand, but with knowledge only I face what king I saw, before others knew.

When Pickett's men streamed bade, and I heard the tangled Cry of the Wilderness wounded, bloody with doom. The mountains, ooce I said, in the little room At Brhmond. The mounuins wait, I said, in the long beat and rattle of siege At cratered Petersburg. Too late We sought the mountains and those people came. And Lee is in mountains now, beyond Appomattox, Listening long for voices that never will speak Again; hearing the hoofbeats come and go and fade Without a stop, without a brown hand lifting The tent-flap, or a bugle call at dawn. It is not the bugle now, or the long roll beating.

The simple stroke of a chapel bell forbids The hurtlmg dream, recalb the kmely mind. And measures out the grace Whereby ak oe we live; Domdd Dmidsom pi And in His might He waits, ikooding within the certitude of time. To bring this lost forsaken valor And the fierce faith undying And the love quenchless To flower among the hills to which we cleave, To fruit upon the mountains whither we flee.

Never forsaking, never denying His children and His children's children forever Unto all generations of the faithful heart. The riders go past fenceless fields. They meet by the ruined wall. And the gaunt horses crop and stray While voices mutter and drawl. The crow starts from the blackberry bush, But the windowless house won't telL Darkness watches the ravished gate. No hand swings the fallen bell. Till roads are white with columns Of phantom cavalry That move as by the dead's cool will Without guns or infantry. At midnight a town's four comers Wake to the whistles' keening; The march of the dead is a long march.

Something tor grandfathers to tell Boys who damor and climb. Ami wtre jom there, and did you ride With the men of that old time? Tossed the reins to a black boy, and strode Higli-booCed and quick-oathed to court and code. Of a sultry noontime General Jackson stalked, A grimness that put silence where men talked. The fluttering of the gossips thinned and fled; They knew where General Jackson left his dead.

And now die twilight. History grows dim. The traflk leads, we no more follow him; In bronze he rides, saluting James K. Polk, His horse's ramp turned to us in the smoke. What do they seek Who build but never read their Greek? The classic stillness of a pool Beleaguered in its certitude By aimless motors that can make Only incertainty more sure; And where the willows crowd the pure Expanse of clouds and blue that stood Around the gables Athens wrought, Shop-girls embrace a plaster thought.

And eye Poseidon's loins ungirt, And never heed the brandished spear Or feel the bright-eyed maiden's rage Whose gaze the sparrows violate; But the sky drips its spectral dirt. And gods, like men, to soot revert. Gone is the mild, the serene air. The golden years are come too late.

Pursue not wisdom or virtue here. But what blind motion, what dim last Regret of men who slew their past Raised up this bribe against their fate. And through the rain 1 heard the poplar bough Thresh at the blinds it never used to touch. And I was old and troubled overmuch. And called in the deep night, but there was none To comfort me or answer, Randall, my son.

But mount the stair and lay you down till mora. The bed is made — the lamp is burning low. I am unreconciled to what I know, And I am old with questions never done That will not let me slumber, Randall, my son. Randall, my son, I cannot hear the cries That lure beyond familiar fields, or see The glitter of the world that draws your eyes. I wish her sleek hunting might never come to be — For in our woods where deer and fox still run An old horn bkyws at daybreak, Randall, my son.

And tell me then, will you some day bequeath To your own son not bom or yet begotten. The htttieof a sword that sticks in sheath, A house that cmmbles and a fence that's rotten? Take, what I leave, your own land unforgotten; Hear, what 1 hear, in a far chase new begun An old hoca't huky iiwttc, Randall, my son. And times will come when answers will not wait.

Remember this: if ever defeat is black Upon your eyelids, go to the wilderness In the dread last of trouble, for your foe Tangles there, more than you, and paths are strange To him, that are your paths, in the wilderness, And were your fathers' paths, and once were mine. You must remember this, and mark it well As I have told it — what my eyes have seen And where my feet have walked beyond forgetting.

But tell it not often, tell it only at last When your sons know what blood runs in their veins. And when the danger comes, as come it will, Go as your fathers went with woodsman's eyes Uncursed, unflinching, studying only the path. First, what you cannot carry, burn or hide. Leave nothing here for him to take or eat Bury, perhaps, what you can surely find If good chance ever bring you back again. Level the crops. Horses for your women and your children. And one to lead, if you should have that many. Then go. At once.

Do not wait until You see his great dust rising in the valley. Then it will be too late. Go when you hear that he has crossed Will's Ford. Others will know and pass the word to you — A tap on the blinds, a hoot-owl's cry at dusk. Yet do not look. Do not tiim. Do not kxk back.

Go further on. Go high. Go deep. The line of this rail-fence east across the old-fields Leads to the cane-bottoms. Back of that, A whiteKMk tree beside a spring, the one Chopped with three blaies on the hillward side. There pick up the trail. I think it was A buffalo path once or an Indian road. You follow it three days along the ridge Until foa reach the spruce woods.

Deer and wild turkey range. Your kin, knowing the way, long there before you Will have good fires and kettles on to boil, Bough-shelters reared and thick beds of balsam. There io tall timber you will be as free As were your fathers once when Tryoo raged In Carolina hunting Regulators, Or Tarleton rode to hang the old-time Whigs.

I only know This is the secret refuge of our race Told only from a father to his son, A trust laid on your lips, as though a vow To generations past and yet to come. There, from the bluffs above, you may at last Look back to all you left, and trace His dust and flame, and plan your harrying If you would gnaw his ravaging flank, or smite Him in his glut among the smouldering ricks.