Study Guide

John Crowe Ransom Biography

Basic Information

Name

John Crowe Ransom

Nickname

J-Cro, The Poet Bird, The Gentleman's Critic, Land-Lover, The Mouth of the South

Sex

Male. I was really into the idea of the Southern gentleman, with all of the genteel tradition, elegance, rules, and manners that involved.

Home town

Pulaski, Tennessee. This small town has the unfortunate distinction of being the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, but for me it would always be home.

Work & Education

Occupation

Let's just get it out on the table: I was a super accomplished guy. Professor of English, composer of lyrical poems, founder of my very own school of criticism—I was busier than an over-scheduled sixth grader. I carved out a professional niche for myself at Vanderbilt University.

At Vandy, I founded the Fugitives. No, it wasn't a garage band; it was a poetry workshop/discussion group dedicated to waxing nostalgic about the traditions of the antebellum South (just so you know, "antebellum" means before the Civil War). Those were the days.

I took some time off from the frontlines of academia to fight in World War I. First Lieutenant, representing.

Kenyon College became my next academic haven—my ashes are buried there, for crying out loud. At Kenyon, I lectured some of the most important thinkers of 20th-century America. We're talking Cleanth Brooks, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, and Robert Penn Warren. I also spent a lot of time publishing poems and essays that expressed my strong interest in and support of agrarian values.

On off-hours, I started the highly respected journal The Kenyon Review, which I edited until my dying days. I never, ever stopped singing the praises of close reading. People who try to put me in one category find themselves befuddled; after all, I was a philosopher, lyricist, professor, editor, father, and just all around virtuoso.

Education

Here's to homeschooling. Dad got me really stoked about learning from an early age, and I went on to be top of my class at a Nashville boys' academy. I earned my B.A. from Vanderbilt (Phi Beta Kappa). As a Rhodes Scholar (you read that right), I later earned an M.A. at Oxford.

Beliefs

Political views

I didn't really care what went down in Washington, but I did give a lot of thought to American labor, culture, industry, and economics—and that's all political, right? I thought about how the government impacted people, not about government itself.

Life was undergoing radical change during the Depression, so it was hard not to think about how the little guy was getting by. Industry brought all kinds of greed, materiality, and a total focus on production and consumption—and that really changed agrarian culture and the Southern way of life. Frankly, I found that disgusting. The rampant materialism, the obsession with producing rather than leading a decent life—it was like the 1980s without big hair, Duran Duran, and Ronald Reagan.

Religious views

Dad—like his own dad—was a Methodist preacher, and since he was my teacher as well as my dad, his religious beliefs were a big part of my upbringing. Let's just say I lived in a religious household.

When I grew up, I wrote a little book called God Without Thunder: An Unorthodox Defense of Orthodoxy. My ideas were basically Unitarian, meaning that I believed in God, but I kept a pretty open mind and didn't go in for the whole God-Jesus-Holy Spirit trinitarian dogma thing.

Although I admit that some of my conclusions were a little hasty, God Without Thunder presented my early—if (in my mind) rock-solid—ideas about religion: I thought that Christ was not divine (it's all about God, not his son), and that there was no such thing as an afterlife (sorry, y'all). Truth is, I really saw religion as a necessary myth. People need something to believe in, right?

Activities & Interests

Likes

Nature
Love
The past
Feelings
The Old South
The countryside
Humanity
Irony
Regular life
Elegies
Farms

Dislikes

The city
Big machines
Greed
Ambition
Industry
Sloppy poems with regular meter and no rhyme
Capitalism
Modernity
Racing around
Sentimentality

Interests

Composing poems under a copper-orange autumn-red maple tree
Teaching
Endless conversations about how great the South was before it all went to pot during the Civil War
Pondering the beauties of nature
Studying Greek and Latin (so old school)
Insisting (really insisting) that a poem is an aesthetic object
Defending Southern tradition until I'm blue in the face
Living in harmony with nature
Taking some leisure time
Being a gentleman
Making lists of what's great about each region of the South

Groups

Poets and Critics United (PCU)
Southern Poets and Lovers of the Past
Romantics for a New Era
The Anti-Industrial, Anti-Urban, Anti-Anything from the North Reading Group
The Agrarians
The Fugitives
Tradition or Die Support Group
A Faith Group for the Power of the Lyrical Poem
New Critics
Extra Close Readers