Thursday, February 05, 2009

More Poetry for Winter

Winter Remembered

Two evils, monstrous either one apart,
Possessed me, and were long and loath at going:
A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart,
And in the wood the furious winter blowing.

Think not, when fire was bright upon my bricks,
And past the tight boards hardly a wind could enter,
I glowed like them, the simple burning sticks,
Far from my cause, my proper heat and center.

Better to walk forth in the frozen air
And wash my wound in the snows; that would be healing;
Because my heart would throb less painful there,
Being caked with cold, and past the smart of feeling.

And where I walked, the murderous winter blast
Would have this body bowed, these eyeballs streaming,
And though I think this heart's blood froze not fast
It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming.

Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,
And tied our separate forces first together,
Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,
Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.

John Crowe Ransom (1888-1974)

Respected as a traditional conservative poet, Ransom tended toward philosophical and theoretical pursuits and these came to dominate much of his literary output beginning in the late 1920s. Ransom joined with eleven other southern men (including several who were also members of the Fugitives) to produce I'll Take My Stand, a volume of essays that praised southern traditions and the agrarian ways of life that dominated the Old South. For the next several years, Ransom explored Agrarianism at greater depth, while at the same time he began to write critical essays that described and defended poetry which could represent reality fully and completely without retreating into untrustworthy realms of abstraction. Ransom's critical pursuits soon led to the publication in 1938 of The World's Body, a collection of essays which laid much of the groundwork for what came to be known as New Criticism, an influential critical movement that sought to focus the critic's attention on the work of literature itself--its language and formal qualities--rather than on the historical and biographical context of the work. In that same year, two of Ransom's former students--Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren--published Understanding Poetry, which expressed many of the critical principles Ransom was advocating, and which eventually became the standard text for teaching poetry in colleges and universities throughout the nation.

Poems and Essays by John Crowe Ransom. Vintage Books, New York. 1955.

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