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This article is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

On Allen Tate in Paris Tony Roberts
The thirtieth, not yet the thirtieth year
Of wonders, revelations, whispers, signs
– ‘Fragment of a Meditation’

In his Memoirs and Opinions 1926–1974, Allen Tate has a colourful essay, ‘Miss Toklas’ American Cake’, recounting his first experience of London and Paris in 1928 and ’29. At that time, the poet, editor and formidable polemicist was already influential. He was known as both a Modernist and a leading contributor to the revival of the Literature of the American South, dubbed ‘The Southern Renaissance’. Tate had just published Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier (1928) and Mr Pope and Other Poems (1928) which, along with the support of prominent friends, had earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship to study abroad. At this time Tate was on the cusp between his precocious beginning and a lauded career in which he was to influence generations (including galvanising poets as different as Robert Lowell and Geoffrey Hill).

Despite the heavy commitment of time required for his current project, a biography of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, the trip enabled Tate to explore his regional identity at a distance geographical as well as historical. Tate’s Southerness was a complicated affair, partly real – he was Kentucky born and also cherished a Virginia legacy his mother persuaded him of – partly symbolic and partly in defiance of the North’s ignorance of the region. He also wrote essays while in Europe, at least one of crucial personal importance, ‘The Fallacy of Humanism’, which pointed the way toward his eventual Catholicism. Tate further revised his celebrated Emily ...

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