Edward Hirsch: On "Ode to the Confederate Dead"

Tate's most important single poem, "Ode to the Confederate Dead," is a kind of Southern analogue to The Waste Land. As opposed to Ransom, who thought The Waste Land "seemed to bring to a head all the specifically modern errors," Tate defended the way Eliot's poem embraced "the entire range of consciousness" and impersonally dramatized the tragic situation of those who live in modern times. Tate's "Ode" treats that situation in specifically Southern terms. The poem presents the symbolic dilemma of a man who has stopped at the gate of a Confederate graveyard. He is trapped in time, isolated, alone, self-conscious, caught between a heroic Civil War past, which is irrecoverable, and the chaotic, degenerate present. In his essay "Narcissus as Narcissus, " Tate argues that "the poem is 'about' solipsism, a philosophical doctrine which says that we create the world in the act of perceiving it, or about Narcissism, or any other ism that denotes the failure of the human personality to function objectively in nature and society." As the poem develops, it becomes a drama of "the cut-offness of the modern 'intellectual man' from the world." The situation of the speaker is symptomatic of the crisis of his region—the crisis of the Old and the New South after World War I. In its diagnosis of that historical situation, the "Ode" is an Agrarian poem. It universalizes from the situation of the South in the middle and late twenties to the larger condition of the modern world.


Title Edward Hirsch: On "Ode to the Confederate Dead" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Jack Myers, David Wojahan Criticism Target Allen Tate
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 21 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry
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