As an essayist, teacher, and poet, John Crowe Ransom was a major influence on American poetry, southern writing, and criticism. He was a founding member of the fugitive/agrarian school, which included, among others, Allen tate, Robert Penn warren, and Donald davidson. The Fugitives and the imagists school were the two most influential forces in American poetry in the early part of the 20th century. The imagists tended toward experimentation and individualism, while the Fugitives tended toward classicism and traditionalism. Often Ransom is called a minor poet, since his poetic output was small; however, he is an important figure in the Southern Renaissance, which included such writers as Warren, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty. As a literary critic, Ransom coined the term New Criticism, which came to describe the dominant critical practice in American universities in the 20 th century, and he was otherwise an influential critic and teacher, counting among his students poets Randall jarrell and ROBERT lowell.
Ransom was born in Tennessee in 1888, and he grew up in the household of an open-minded Methodist minister. At 15 he entered Vanderbilt University; his primary interest was philosophy. After graduation he studied classics as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford from 1910 to 1913. Upon returning from England, he was appointed to the English department faculty at Vanderbilt. Outside of military service in World War I, he remained at Van-derbilt until departing in 1937 for Kenyon College, where he founded the literary journal the Kenyon Review. He was awarded the Bollingen Prize for poetry in 1951 and the National Book Award in 1964.
His first book, Poems about God (1919), was written during World War I, but he quickly became disillusioned with the work. During his years with the Fugitives, he published Chills and Fever (1924) and Two Gentlemen in Bonds (1927), and it is these two collections upon which his reputation rests. By 1927 Ransom ceased writing poetry in favor of criticism.
Ransom's recurring themes are the conflict of the body and the soul, the transience of life, the passing of beauty and love, myth, and tradition. His poems are traditional in form, but his use of language is playful, filled with wit and irony. often he portrays the particular in delicate situations to attention to the universal. For example, in "Janet Waking" (1927), a young girl learns about death through the death of her pet hen: "It was a transmogrifying bee / Came droning down on Chucky's old bald head." Janet's response is "Wake her from her sleep!" In this poem traditional elements, such as rhyme, are connected with humor to display an experience that everyone knows—the first awareness of death.
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