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Red Stains

    In a pyloned desert where the scorpion reigns
    My love and I plucked poppies breathing tales
    Of crimes now long asleep, whose once-red stains
    Dyed stabbing men, at sea with bloody sails.
    The golden sand drowsed. There a dog yelped loud;
    And in his cry rattled a hollow note
    Of deep uncanny knowledge of that crowd
    That loved and bled in winy times remote.
    The poppies fainted when the moon came wide;
    The cur lay still. Our passionate review
    Of red wise folly dreamed on . . . She by my side
    Stared at the Moon; and then I knew he knew.
       And then he smiled at her; to him 'twas ]funny] --
       Her calm steel eyes, her earth-old throat of honey.

    Allen Tate (1899-1979)

Allen Tate's poetry, classical and severe has been greatly anthologized. It's unfortunate that so much of it remains under copyright because he did not come into his own as a poet until the 1930s and his best work was done in the 1950s.

Red Stains is one of his earliest poems published in 1919 and is considered quite an accomplished sonnet for a 20 year old. The twelfth line "I knew he knew" is the only a slight testament to the poetic over-reaching that young men often write in their early sonnets. Compare it with the more mature, almost metaphysical, obscurity of Tate's best-known work, Ode to the Confederate Dead.

Anyone interested in the literature and history of the American South, or in modern letters, will be fascinated by his life. He began the literary movement in the 1920's known as the New Criticism characterized by its meticulous attention to textual detail. He won just about every award imaginable and held the poetry chair of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.. in 1943-44. The master of several literary genres, Tate was an influential figure not only of the so-called Southern Renascence, but also of the modernist movement in literature.

Selected Sources

American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Blair, Bob:

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Tate (John Orly) Allen," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved.

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