John Crowe Ransom Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Born April 30, 1888, in Pulaski, Tennessee, John Crowe Ransom was the third child of John James Ransom and Ella Crowe. From his mother, an English teacher, he absorbed an interest in ballads and myth, especially the Cavalier myth. From his father, a Methodist minister and district superintendent, he inherited a love of poetry, eloquence with language, lifelong interest in metaphysical questions, and facility in languages.

Admitted to Vanderbilt University at age fifteen, Ransom chose a course of study emphasizing Latin and Greek classics, philosophy, and history. After his graduation in 1909, Vanderbilt professors nominated him for a Rhodes Scholarship, and in 1910, he entered Oxford University, choosing again to focus on philosophy and the classics. His three years there reinforced his classicism, and discussions with fellow Rhodes Scholars increased his interest in British and American literature.

In 1914, Ransom returned to Vanderbilt as a member of the English faculty, leaving briefly to serve in World War I. Again returning to Vanderbilt, he joined a group of young intellectuals who met weekly to discuss philosophy and poetry. Soon this group began critiquing one another’s poetry, eventually publishing The Fugitive (1922-1925), a journal devoted to poetry, criticism, and poetic theory. The Fugitive was widely read and highly respected in literary circles.

Becoming convinced of a need to defend the...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Most of Ransom’s poetry was written before the 1930’s. However, his best poetry remains timeless because he employs the greatest of human resources—outstanding intellect, a sympathetic heart, superb classical training, and a personality grounded in the balance of head (intellect) and sensibility (soul, aesthetic imagination)—to lessen the alienation and hopelessness that seem poised to overwhelm humanity. Ransom realizes that, especially in the modern age, poets must provide aesthetic and spiritual guidance for society because poetry best prepares humankind to wrestle with age-old ambiguities of mortality and fate.

Ransom seeks a code to provide meaning for individuals attempting to cope with an apparently meaningless universe. For Ransom, that code seems most accessible through deliberately minor poetry. Though he continued to revise a few early poems, his emphasis turns to the sustaining sense of community in the small towns of his youth. There, social tradition, religious ritual, and personal philosophy combined to keep the world’s violence at bay.

Throughout his career, Ransom attempted to define in essay format what he was achieving in poetry. The results, though impressive, never totally satisfied him. His essays of social and aesthetic philosophy define the nature of poetry, establish the role of the poet, and assert poetry’s significant relationship with modern society. Thomas Daniel Young’s title for the definitive Ransom biography describes him as Gentleman in a Dustcoat (trying to be heard).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

John Crowe Ransom was born in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1888. His father was a Methodist minister and the family moved with such frequency that the children were taught at home, Ransom not entering public school until he was ten years old. The relationship thus established with his father in the role of teacher-critic became an enduring one, and Ransom valued critical exchanges over his work with his father throughout his lifetime. That early and enduring relationship can be seen as a kind of paradigm of the series of similar relationships that were to be central to Ransom’s development well into his mature years. He thrived on discussion groups or circles, characterized by critical exchanges, such as those in which he participated as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt and Oxford, and especially, with his fellow Fugitives, Agrarians, and New Critics. The exchanges with his father when he was a boy foreshadow his exchanges in his maturity with Allen Tate.

Ransom’s career was divided almost equally between his tenures at Vanderbilt and Kenyon College. After receiving his B.A. from Vanderbilt in 1909, he went as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford, where he earned a second B.A. in 1913. In 1914, he began his teaching career at Vanderbilt as an instructor. Except for his two years in the armed forces during World War I, and a leave of absence on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1931, that tenure went uninterrupted until 1937, when he resigned to take a position at Kenyon...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Crowe Ransom, besides being a fine poet in his own right, was perhaps the most influential critic in the United States in the mid-twentieth century. His influence stemmed from three sources: the examples he set in his own poetry; the pronouncements he made as the leader of two related but distinct literary movements, southern Agrarianism and the New Criticism; and the power of selection he exerted as the editor of the Kenyon Review. A college teacher since 1914 and a professor, first at Vanderbilt University and then at Kenyon College, starting in 1924, Ransom applied the principles of the New Criticism to the teaching of literature, challenging the older historical approach.

Ransom was born in Pulaski, Tennessee, on April 30, 1888, and he began his academic training at Vanderbilt, the original seat of the Southern Agrarians. He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1909, and then, after studying for four years as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, he returned to Vanderbilt as an instructor in English in 1914. There he remained, except for two years spent as a field artillery officer in France during World War I, until he moved to Kenyon in 1937.

His literary activity, which can be divided into two distinct parts (the poetic corresponding to the period at Vanderbilt, the critical to the one at Kenyon), began in 1919 with the publication of Poems About God. At Vanderbilt he helped to form the Fugitives, a group that came to be...

(The entire section is 423 words.)