The next piece in this Winter, 1939 volume of Partisan Review is a poem in the form of an eclogue by the American poet, Allen Tate. You might begin with the idea of an eclogue:it is a kind of pastoral poem, set in the countryside, and in the form of a dialogue between two shepherds –understood to be pastoral poets– as well as being rural farmers. Virgil invented the form, and it is associated with philosophical reflection in a place out of the way of the worldly concerns of politics and money and war. Tate was a member of a group of writers who called themselves the “Southern Agrarians,” who were a group of twelve American writers, poets, essayists, and novelists, all with roots in the Southern United States and who united to write a pro–Southern pastoral manifesto, published as the essay collection I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930).I’ll Take My Stand was attacked at the time, and since, as a reactionary and romanticized defense of the Old South and the lost cause of the Confederacy. So, I am asking myself, why is Tate being published in Partisan Review?!?!
The answer, I suppose is that Modernism and Socialism crossed paths and shared ideas along the way to WWII. The religiosity, the conservatism, and the racism of the Agrarians ran alongside Modernism and its advocates. Certainly T.S. Eliot’s and Pound’s Modernisms can be considered congenial companions to Tate’s poetic voice. But the reasons may be more haphazard, having to do with connections made in the period when Tate was living in New York in the 1920s, or through Tate’s work at The Nation.
Frankly, I don’t understand the poem…. and I wholeheartedly invite readers to tell me what you think is going on in it, how it might have found a place in Partisan Review, and what its intention is beyond the sardonic critique of the Modern by one of its practitioners….
Thank goodness we have Hemingway and Trilling next week. See you then!
Eclogue Of The Liberal And The Liberal Poet –
In that place, shepherd, all the men are dead.
Yes, look at the water grim and black
Where immense Europa rears her head,
Her face pinched and her breasts slack.
I said, shepherd, all the men are dead.
Shall I turn to the road that goes America?
Is that a place for men to be dead
Or living? If you don’t mind being asked.
Try it and see. It’s a pretty good way
To skim three thousand miles in a day
And none of them America.
But what about her face and the tasked
Wonders of her air and soil, her big belly
That Putnam writes about under the sun?
I don’t know Put, I don’t know his Nelly-
To name her that if she’d name it fun
But you know she hasn’t any name,
Nowhere you touch her she’s the same,
What, shepherd, are we talking about?
You started it, shepherd.
Shepherd, I didn’t.
You did; you saw the poetical face of Europe.
You said it was no place for men to be.
I meant seawater; you thought I meant hope.
Hell, I reckon you think I am a dope.
I didn’t say that; I said there was no place.
If not in a place, where are the People weeping?
They creep weeping in the lace, not place.
Is it something with which we may cope-
The weeping, the creeping, the peepee-ing, the
Hanging is something which I will do with this
Alas, for us who peep, weeping.
Alas, for us you see but little hope.
Alas, I didn’t say that; you rhymed hope with rope.
I meant I was going to hang us both for creeping.
Afterwards they could process us into soap;
Afterwards they would rhyme soap with hope.
What a cheerful rhyme! Clean not mean!
Been not seenNot tired expired!
We must now decide about place.
We decide that place is the big weeping face
And the other abstract lace of the race.
Shepherd, what are we talking about?
Oh, why, shepherd, are we stalking about?