“I’ll Take My Stand” as Southern Epic ~ The Imaginative Conservative

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Ever for the reason that first stir they created within the early Thirties the Southern Agrarians have been troublesome to evaluate. How severe, politically and economically, had been they in what they advocated? How a lot settlement was there amongst them? The 4 collected above papers level up and even intensify their divergence, investigating wide-ranging and, not less than on the floor, incommensurate points of their thought. One essay, for example, by Judith Shank, is primarily cultural and aesthetic in its concern, inspecting the implications of John Crowe Ransom’s protection of a code of courtesy. One other, by Virginia Arbery, takes up Allen Tate’s advocacy of metaphysical “violence” in his quest for proper order, and a 3rd, by Steven Ealy, investigates Robert Penn Warren’s social concern for the black Southerner. These papers clarify how startlingly dissimilar had been the Agrarians’ modes of thought, and the way severe was the divergence of their particular considerations for the great society.

Shank finds in Ransom’s poem “Equilibrists” his prescription for a tradition—the steadiness between what the Greeks referred to as physis and nomos: need and restraint, impulse and code. Informing the essay “Varieties and Residents,” wherein, as she factors out, Ransom defends information with out appropriation, is the concept of type and ritual as delaying rules, methods that enable the aesthetic to present itself. “A real tradition, no matter its ethical flaws, is an analogue of one thing nobler towards which the human spirit aspires however which it may grasp solely by submission to the precise,” she writes; and: “The poet’s—the citizen’s—process isn’t the creation of a really perfect world however the discovery of an actual one.” Shanks’ commentary would appear to disclose in Ransom the tacit assumption that although societies can’t keep away from ethical flaws and therefore can’t attain perfection, they will nonetheless present the great life if not pushed by the predatory motives of effectivity and management.

Arbery illuminates the theological concern behind Tate’s troubled imaginative and prescient of his homeland. She makes clear that Tate attributes the defeat of the South to a scarcity of non secular perception: it was a feudal society and not using a feudal faith; it did, nonetheless, possess a “frequent historic fantasy.”[1] Tate considers the agrarian anthology too unique in its implications; “it factors to a specific home however omits to say that it was the house of a spirit which will even have lived elsewhere and that this mansion briefly was by the way made with palms.”[2] Actual group is “the recurrent discovery of the human communion as expertise, in a particular place and at a particular time.”[3] The mental angle that must be maintained within the South, Tate maintains, is a radical violence—”reducing away the overgrowth and getting again to the roots.”[4]

Ealy’s presentation offers with what turned for Warren a lifelong concern: the plight of the black Southerner. Warren later regretted this early essay, nonetheless, as being a protection of segregation, regardless of how “cogent and humane.” Nonetheless, Ealy highlights just a few elementary and unchanging factors in Warren’s manifesto, one being that the very manhood of the white relies upon upon his acknowledging the frequent humanity of the black. He makes the problem: “if the southern white man feels that the agrarian life is best, he should discover a place in it for the Negro”—in truth, for the black group. Elevating the query of the absence of this concern within the writings of the opposite Agrarians (apart from Tate’s later work) and Warren’s digital obsession with it in his later writing, Ealy forces a reexamination of the importance of this significant omission. What does it say, if something, about their theories?

As one can absolutely see, these papers increase vital inquiries to be requested about this group of thinkers—and, to be simply, we should embody in our speculations the writing of one in all their most dedicated members, Donald Davidson. To start with, we should ask, had been they a college of thought in any respect? Second, if that’s the case, what was their angle towards the Outdated South? Did they make the idolatrous mistake Mark Malvasi (and others) attribute to them of elevating the South to the standing of the heavenly metropolis?[5] Third, what’s the connection of I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition to the world of actuality? Is it mythic, metaphorical, utopian? Is it a severely argued political tract like Dante’s De Monarchia or a visionary work like Yeats’ A Vision? Is it to be taken as actually as Eliot’s Notes toward the Definition of Culture or as metaphorically as Extra’s Utopia? Lastly, and maybe most important to the endurance of their contribution, does the importance of the Agrarian motion lie in its political thought? Or, alternatively, in its literary implications?

These are the questions that require consideration in any try to guage Agrarianism seventy years after the publication of I’ll Take My Stand. And maybe the final question calls for first consideration. No doubt the best and influential Agrarians had been severe poets–the so-called Fugitives, Ransom, Tate, Davidson, and Warren. All 4 went on to turn into main critics and, in a way, spokesmen for the motion. Are we not obliged to acknowledge that the behavior of considered this group was prone to be analogical, synecdochic, and metaphorical, reasonably than literal? And but, in so doing, are we relegating them totally to the realm of make-believe? In her useful postscript to I’ll Take My Stand Virginia Rock may give us a clue to what these writers are doing when she says, “Dramatically and metaphorically, the Agrarians had offered their picture of the entire man, imperfect, fallible, desirous of having fun with the great life, of realizing the potential of his ‘self.’ “[6] And, she declares, they current “a mythic, communal picture—in essence the artist’s imaginative and prescient of a world he would create.”[7] However is Rock actually heading in the right direction right here, or is she slighting the poet’s reference to actuality? Primarily, Agrarianism as she sees it was an try by a gaggle of distinguished writers to embody “a fantasy out of a timeless order of man’s common consciousness right into a world of historical past.”[8] Isn’t the implication clear that she considers these writers to be creating one thing out of an archetypal actuality, which they then form to suit a specific occasion—like Theseus’ assertion that poetry provides “to ethereal nothings / A neighborhood habitation and a reputation”? But Ransom’s characterization of poetry in “Varieties and Residents,” as Judith Shank reminds us, appears to point the alternative course of—starting with the native habitation and the title—when he makes clear that poetry isn’t the creation of a really perfect world however the discovery of an actual one.

Would modifying Rock’s assertion considerably make any distinction?—to say, for example, that the Agrarians had been in truth not a lot making a fantasy as apprehending a fantasy implicit within the society about them and attempting to provide it express expression? Virginia Arbery calls to our consideration Tate’s conviction that the South possessed a “decrease fantasy” of historic building, a fantasy of political order. Of his personal convictions on Agrarianism, Tate wrote: “I’m… upholding a… rational perception into the which means of the current when it comes to some conceivable previous implicit in our personal lives; we want a physique of concepts that may bear upon the course of the spirit and but stay coherent as a rational instrument.”[9] Two years later, in his essay on Emily Dickinson, Tate can be extra express about this physique of concepts. He speaks of “the thoroughness of the poet’s self-discipline in an goal system of reality, and his lack of consciousness of such a self-discipline.[10] This self-discipline arises from “quite a few elementary concepts the origin of which the poet doesn’t know.”[11] On this assertion Tate gives an essential clue to what the Agrarians had been doing.

For, as we should confess, in coping with the considered the Agrarians, we’re nonetheless hampered in labeling them by having no class wherein to position them. Their argument stays not likely financial or political; neither is it, regardless of sure tendencies, theological. And nonetheless additional, it’s not a romantic dream imaginative and prescient of a really perfect state. The important concern to be settled then considerations the form of information that the Agrarian motion gives. If their considerations weren’t literal, that’s, in the event that they weren’t truly defending a political and financial system, what had been these intrepid Southerners doing? Had been they in truth utopian? Or, to make use of one other label persistently utilized to them: was their imaginative and prescient a model of pastoral?—by which most commentators appear to imply a sort of play-acting in a world other than on a regular basis life, a world wherein one can minimize oneself off from the courtroom and assume quaint costumes and fairly names and recite fanciful lyrics. However statements of the Agrarians refuting this kind of place are to be discovered all through their work. Their place appears related, reasonably, to the accountable poetic stance taken by Aeschylus, or Sophocles, or Virgil. Is that stance not a revival of an older view of the poet’s position in society—maybe an try and articulate “these elementary concepts the origin of which the poet doesn’t know”? Richard Weaver identified in his 1950 Sewanee Assessment article, “Agrarianism in Exile,” that the Southern Agrarian motion got here out of poetry—and that in positing a cosmos, poetry gives a set of analogies, a world wherein trigger and impact will be noticed and studied.[12] Davidson’s “Traces Written for Allen Tate on his Sixtieth Birthday” emphasizes the bigger seriousness of Tate’s poetry. Within the subsequent to final stanza he writes:

And as now, as soon as extra, I see younger faces flip
The place the battle is and a lonelier kildee’s cry,
Exultant along with your verses to unlearn
The bondage of their useless occasions’ sophistry;
They know by Mississippi, Thames, or Seine,
What metropolis we construct, what land we dream to save lots of…
What artwork and knowledge are the a part of males
And are your music, gallant and grave.

Tate’s younger readers, Davidson implies, are conscious of the political implications of his poetry—and acknowledge too its prolonged implications, “by Mississippi, Thames, or Seine.”

By this transient consideration of the third query—the one regarding the mode of thought represented by the Agrarians—we are able to flip lastly to the primary query. Sure, we are able to say, the Agrarians had been a “faculty” of thought, although their unity lay deeper than any rational convictions. And in reply to the second query—their relation to the South—I feel we must parry that it was complicated certainly.

These Southern poets, showing after the First World Conflict, had been like all early twentieth-century writers vital of and totally different from their society. They too had been “modernists” within the sense of with the ability to see the issues on this planet about them; additional, they had been intellectuals, who’re all the time considerably alienated from their society. The Southern code of manners by this time had turn into one thing of an heirloom; like all decayed codes of conduct, it might be used as an instrument of snobbery and nostalgia. The Outdated South had been mortally wounded with the Civil Conflict. Its conventional methods may not maintain it. What was wanted was not mere renewal however a brand new beginning, as these poets knew, bringing forth no mere repetition of the identical varieties however reasonably a brand new incarnation of conventional values. For, regardless of what they consciously considered their society generally, they had been in sympathy with its founding rules—simply as Gogol and Dostoevsky had been in sympathy with the previous fantasy of Holy Russia, solely traces of which they noticed about them within the every day lifetime of nineteenth-century Russia. For these Southern poets who started their journal The Fugitive in 1922 with a disclaimer of any allegiance to “mint juleps” and the literary part recognized reasonably euphemistically as Southern Literature, it was not till 1926, 4 years later, that they started the road of thought main them to attract up the Agrarian manifesto and overtly declare their constancy to the South.

The Agrarian second appears to be that second when, in Donald Davidson’s phrases, quite a few writers consciously think about what their individuals “really are as compared with what they’re being urged to turn into.”[13] The 4 literary males who turned the leaders of the Agrarians got here to the protection of their area with imaginations that remained primarily poetic. Warren as soon as remarked that the Agrarian motion gave Southern writers a picture to ponder, a picture wherein they might work out the lineaments of human future. And to take his phrases severely is to acknowledge that the essential writers on the finish of modernity all got here out of a retrieved custom, which they had been in a position to entry by way of a picture. For the Russians it was Holy Mom Russia; for the Irish it was Kathleen ni Houlihan. Was it equally for the Southerners a female picture? The woman of Ransom’s “Vintage Harvesters” or his “Outdated Mansion”? For Tate–at first–”Final Days of a Charming Girl,” and later, the “Mom of Silences”? Their enshrinement of Reminiscence would appear to point so; for as Allen Tate has written in his essay, “A Misplaced Traveller’s Dream,” “Reminiscence is sort of a girl.” In an early poem, “Revelation,” Warren expresses a boy’s ambiguous sense of freedom when he rebels towards his mom: “As a result of he had spoken harshly to his mom/ The day turned astonishingly vibrant…” The Southerner’s freedom was purchased on the expense of his piety; however he may discover out, as Warren’s poem concludes, “solely in separateness does love study definition.”

Tate wrote later: “The South not solely re-entered the world with the First World Conflict; it regarded round and noticed for the primary time since about 1830 that Yankees had been to not blame for all the things…. The Southern legend of defeat and heroic frustration was taken over by a dozen or extra first-rate writers and transformed right into a common fantasy of the human situation.”[14] And, as he wrote in one other essay (“The New Provincialism”) these Southern writers “gave a backward look” simply at this second.[15] This one speculative gaze dropped at thoughts, in its placing distinction with the world by which they had been surrounded, the true lineaments of their native area, its tragic historical past and its dedication to reminiscence. In and behind the ethical devastation of the World Conflict and the disruptions of modernity, they noticed one other Conflict and its aftermath some sixty years earlier than.

Nevertheless it was not merely the South’s defeat and backwardness they confronted. The brand new discovery was the universality of the shared beliefs for which that defeat had been suffered—the fundamental beliefs, as they now noticed it, of the Western world. The South turned for them, then, not merely one peculiar society, however a notable occasion of the admirable and lamentable civilization of the West. In such circumstances a poem that they had studied all their lives, nearly whose each line they knew by coronary heart, turned a paradigm for their very own relation to the world. Within the implied topic of the Aeneid, which Gary Miles and Archibald Allen have described as “the escape from the disasters of latest historical past and the hassle to start reconstruction,”[16] Southern writers discovered a telling analogy to their very own scenario. They noticed the universality within the picture.

Not like different modernist poets, these 4 had an precise society on which to attract for his or her understanding of human conduct, for what Faulkner was later to name the “previous verities.” If Pound and Eliot had been deracinated, and if their concepts of tradition had been predominantly abstractions (as I feel they had been), then in distinction the Southerners had what Dostoevsky had in Russia and Yeats in Eire: an precise tradition, a set of connatural concepts, a real group of manners and sensibility on which to attract.

By 1958 Davidson described the “complete objective” of the Agrarian motion. It was to hunt that picture of the South which we may cherish with excessive conviction and to provide it, wherever we may, the finality of artwork in these varieties—fictional, poetical, or dramatic—which have the character of fantasy—that’s, these type which, resting on perception, can safe perception in others, and which, not like arguments, are unanswerable, are in themselves fulfilled and full. Such was the whole objective of which the so-called Agrarian motion was however a declaratory preface.[17]

One finds within the Fugitive-Agrarians a real social sense—not of concepts however of pieties—a way of bonds that tie individuals collectively. It’s so uncommon a top quality that one is pressured to ponder its significance. Can we not say that that is their distinguishing mark, setting them off from different modernist poet-critics? Pound and Eliot may write about political order; however Ransom and Tate got here out of it and certainly couldn’t think about significance other than it.

We have now to succeed in the conclusion, then, in reply to our second query, that nonetheless pious the Agrarians may really feel towards the South, they weren’t idolizing it. In I’ll Take My Stand they weren’t writing for Southerners however in truth addressing the mainstream. What they sought was to be desired for all, not for a gaggle of escapists. At an Agrarian convention on the College of Dallas in 1968 Warren declared that the questions the motion raised had been these regarding “communal duty.” They sought to delineate the imaginative imaginative and prescient of a lifestyle that, as they discerned it, represented the nice custom of the West. And this imaginative imaginative and prescient, they believed, might be completed solely by way of the restoration of the normal operate of poetry.

The last word query to show to, then, is the ultimate one posited earlier. Even when the considered the Agrarians can hardly be put to sensible political or financial use, may it not have greater than “literary” significance? May it not represent a lesson for modern thinkers? In that case, that lesson can be that nothing can lengthy maintain a superb society besides a communally held picture and, additional, that such a binding picture must be of necessity a poetic one—although not essentially “literary.” The poetic sense was expressed within the South in methods fairly dissimilar to its expression in societies patterned on the Enlightenment. Actually there have been tales and folksongs and fabliaux; however much more essential, there have been pieties and beliefs that might exist solely inside a big sustaining picture. Human life in such a society happened in a cosmos of which means.

By the start of the 20 th century there was sufficient of this poesis left in reminiscence and manners to animate the imaginations of a gaggle of writers who may handle to convey it into consciousness and so give it type. For no matter causes, nonetheless—maybe due to the cynicism of the time—they had been unable to specific that type in epic poetry. (Their overt poetry was lyric.) Nevertheless it appears essential to see that the imaginative and prescient mendacity behind the Agrarian manifesto and sustaining it’s epic.

The agrarian life that had created the South and sustained the civilization of Europe possessed a magnificence and the Aristocracy that was not attainable, these writers acknowledged. In some sense, the lack of that lifestyle was an irreparable calamity. Nevertheless it was not a query of “going again” to something a lot as of apprehending the type of a convention—and of analyzing the implications of its loss. In counting the prices of such a disaster, they got here to a imaginative and prescient of the everlasting and timeless lineaments of a society towards which the human enterprise has tended and towards which it may nonetheless aspire. I ought to say, then, that one of many important issues I’ll Take My Stand completed was to testify to the political significance of the mode of imaginative and prescient that’s primarily epic. This ought ideally to be a significant concern of the political thinker.

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This essay initially appeared in The Political Science Reviewer (Fall 2001) and is republished right here with gracious permission from ISI.

This essay was first revealed right here in July 2020.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the precept of appreciation to the dialogue of tradition and politics—we strategy dialogue with magnanimity reasonably than with mere civility. Will you assist us stay a refreshing oasis within the more and more contentious area of contemporary discourse? Please think about donating now.


[1] Allen Tate, “The Fugitive 1922–25: A Private Recollection Twenty Years After,” The Princeton College Library Chronicle, III, No 3 (April 1942), 83.

[2] Allen Tate, “Remarks on the Southern Faith,” I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Custom (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State College Press, 1930, 1980), 155.

[3] Allen Tate, “The Man of Letters within the Trendy World,” Essays of Four Decades (ISI Books, 1999), 11.

[4] Allen Tate, “Remarks on the Southern Faith,” 175.

[5] Mark Malvasi, The Unregenerate South: The Agrarian Thought of John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate and Donald Davidson (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State College Press, 1997).

[6] Virginia Rock, “The Twelve Southerners: Biographical Essays,” in I’ll Take My Stand, 369.

[7] Ibid., 362.

[8] Ibid., 370.

[9] Quoted by Rock, 378.

[10] Allen Tate, “Emily Dickinson,” Essays of 4 A long time, 294.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Richard M. Weaver, “Agrarianism in Exile,” The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1987), 29–49.

[13] Donald Davidson, “Why the Trendy South Has a Nice Literature,” Still Rebels, Still Yankees (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State College Press, 1957), 173.

[14] Allen Tate, “A Southern Mode of the Creativeness,” Essays of 4 A long time, 592.

[15] Allen Tate, “The New Provincialism,” Essays of 4 A long time, 545.

[16] Gary Miles and Archibald Allen, “Vergil and the Augustan Expertise,” Vergil at 2000: Commemorative Essays on the Poet and his Influence, John D. Bernar, ed. (New York: AMS Press, 1986), 33.

[17] Donald Davidson, “Counterattack, 1930–1940,” Southern Writers in the Modern World (Athens: College of Georgia Press, 1958).

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