Study Guide

John Crowe Ransom Quotes

Tawny are the leaves turned, but they still hold.
It is the harvest; what shall this land produce?
A meager hill of kernels, a runnel of juice.
Declension looks from our land, it is old.
[From "Antique Harvesters"]

This poem of mine really gets at the heart of my big agrarian kick. Allow me to break this down for you. I love nature—I'm talking about trees and leaves and all of the crazy things that happen to them as the seasons change. Tawny leaves are my favorite, as this poem suggests.

In case the poem's title didn't give it away, I'll let you know that I love old things and people who work on the land. The title lyrically merges these two interests. I am a big believer in working the land and just moving along with the cyclical changes of nature. Those small-plot farmers lived a pretty idyllic life, just hoeing out in the field with sun-kissed cheeks.

But oh, no: by line 3, things are getting ugly because some greedy bad boys (probably from the North) have taken so much from the land that it has nothing left to give. In four short lines, we go from the splendor of the orangey leaf to the pity of the overused land. It's just too much.

The critic should regard the poem as nothing short of a desperate ontological or metaphysical maneuver. The poet himself, in the agony of composition, has something like this sense of his labors. The poet perpetuates in his poem an order of existence which in actual life is constantly crumbling beneath his touch. His poem celebrates the object which is real, individual, and qualitatively infinite. [From "Criticism, Inc."]

Life is rough. But with poetry, life can be a little less rough. And, since I have your attention, I'll just go ahead and say that sometimes good poetry—and even all (good) art—is better than life itself. Poets labor over their work, and each line is a precious thing; if you're a good close reader of poems, you'll understand this.

Not to get all philosophical, but life just slips through your hands. Poetry and art are pretty much the only things that help us make sense of it.

Life is short. Read hard.

But we moderns are impatient and destructive. [From "The Future of Poetry"]

Here's something crazy that you may not realize: I was growing up during the artistically rich period referred to as Modernism. It would be no exaggeration, though, to say that I regarded all things modern as a stinking pile of manure. Actually, calling it manure is too nice, since manure, unlike modern things, is at least natural.

I hate to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but I long for the days of the Old South, when people were one with the land, when the spiritual connection with the land meant more than profit, when harvests were about seasons and not about industrialized labor.

Now, I never lived during my beloved antebellum period, but everything I know about it sounds great. (Except, of course, the slavery.) Modern man is in a rush to bring about his own demise and to deplete and exploit the land. It's a twentieth-century bummer.

It is out of fashion in these days to look backward rather than forward. About the only American given to it is some unreconstructed Southerner, who persists in his regard for a certain terrain, a certain history, and a certain way of living. [From I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Southern Agrarian Tradition]

Obviously, I have never concerned myself with being up on the trends. While everyone was busy looking toward the future and flapping their gums about innovation and production, I dared to look back and see what was good about the good old days.

Now, being all excited about the Old South was not a sympathetic position to take in the mid-20th century. At that time, a lot of people were frowning on the evils of the American past. But I saw a silver lining: we Southerners were the only ones left who cared about the land. It wasn't about slavery—it was about living in harmony with nature and keeping up the genteel traditions that made the Old South such a nice old place to be (for white landowners).

Even if you don't like the Old South, you still have to admit that we were on to something when we stressed the importance of living in harmony with nature. Look where all that Northern industrialism got us, right? I feel like people just don't get me.