Allen Tate’s poetry has often been described as obscure, but although it is difficult and frequently misunderstood, it is not obscure. The difficulties in reading Tate’s poems arise mainly from his allusions, many of which are classical.
A facet of Tate’s poetry that is frequently misunderstood is his use of history as a theme. To Tate, a sense of history is no mere nostalgic longing for bygone glory. It is rather an understanding of those qualities of earlier cultures which made them human. In several poems, Tate expresses the belief that modern people have discarded too many of these qualities and thus have become less human. Tate does not suggest that people turn their backs on modern culture and attempt to return to a more classical and simpler way of life, but he does seem to believe that modern technology and humanism are mutually exclusive. He is in favor of the creation of a new culture rather than the re-creation of an older one.
Tate’s techniques as well as his themes are worthy of study. He rejected at first, but later acknowledged, the truism that form and content should be inextricably related, and he described free verse as a failure. His poems show experimentation with many different forms. Also typical of Tate’s poems is the use of unusual adjectives. “Ambitious November” and “brute curiosity of an angel’s stare” (both from “Ode to the Confederate Dead”) may be cited. These adjectives have the effect of...
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