William Pratt: On "Ode to the Confederate Dead"

In his most famous poem, "Ode to the Confederate Dead," Tate pays his tribute to the historical South, those kinsmen who had fought bravely to defend their land and had been honorably defeated, but in so doing he does not draw closer to them; rather, he finds himself farther from them after meditating on their graves, for the heroic failure has been translated into the "verdurous anonymity" of death, and the speaker feels conscious of his own morbidity in trying to memorialize them. He is trapped more than ever in his mind, with "mute speculation, the patient curse / that stones the eyes," and subconsciously thinks of the image of the jaguar leaping "For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim"—Narcissus come to life in an image of suicide, as the speaker tries but fails to find objective reality in the past. The end of Tate’s "Ode" is as complete an image of isolation as can be found in modern poetry, as the speaker leaves the Confederate cemetery behind him, with its "shut gate and . . . decomposing wall" and thinks of his own death in the shape of a "gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush, . . . Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!"

Tate's alienation is even more final and desolate than Davidson's, and though Tate wrote somewhat more hopeful poems later, the "Ode" still stands at the center of his work, like Eliot’s Waste Land, a masterpiece that could not be transcended and that dominates his achievement as a poet.


Title William Pratt: On "Ode to the Confederate Dead" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author William Pratt Criticism Target Allen Tate
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 21 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Singing the Chaos: Madness and Wisdom in Modern Poetry
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