Allen Tate displayed all the romantic qualities of a great artist: intellectual precocity, heavy drinking, prodigious libido, volatility in friendship, difficult views, and enough self-interest to bind the lot together. What he lacked was great art. Or so run current estimates of Tate’s career as a poet, critic, and man of letters, which spanned some sixty years, up to his death in 1979.
These days Tate’s name pops up occasionally in bookstores, never in cafés: he’s simply not part of the contemporary discussion. Literary history and her myrmidons, the anthologists, have hacked down his poetic ranks—often to a single poem, “Ode to the Confederate Dead”—and left the rest to lie where they fell, out of print. His benchmark critical prose fares only marginally better, with Essays of Four Decades