John Orley Allen Tate was an American poet, essayist, social commentator, and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1943 to 1944.
Tate was born near Winchester, Kentucky to John Orley Tate, a businessman, and Eleanor Parke Custis Varnell. In 1916 and 1917 Tate studied the violin at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
He began attending Vanderbilt University in 1918, where he met fellow poet Robert Penn Warren . Warren and Tate were invited to join a group of young Southern poets under the leadership of John Crowe Ransom; the group were known as the Fugitive Poets and later as the Southern Agrarians. Tate contributed to the group's magazine The Fugitive and to the agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand published in 1930, and this was followed in 1938 by Who Owns America? Tate also joined Ransom to teach at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
In 1924, Tate moved to New York City where he met poet Harold Hart Crane, with whom he had been exchanging correspondence for some time. During a summer visit with Warren in Kentucky, he began a relationship with writer Caroline Gordon. They married in New York in May 1925. Their daughter Nancy was born in September. In 1928, along with others of the Village crowd, he went to Europe. In London he visited with T.S. Eliot, whose poetry and criticism he greatly admired, and he also visited Paris. After two years abroad, he returned to the United States, and in 1930 was back in Tennesseee. Here he took up residence in an antebellum mansion with an 85-acre estate attached, that had been bought for him by one of his brothers, "who had made a lot of northern money out of coal." He resumed his senior position with the Fugitives. He devoted most of his time to promoting "the principles of Agrarianism."
Just before leaving for Europe in 1928, Tate described himself to John Gould Fletcher as "an enforced atheist". Later, he told Fletcher, "I am an atheist, but a religious one — which means that there is no organization for my religion." He regarded secular attempts to develop a system of thought for the modern world as misguided. "Only God," he insisted, "can give the affair a genuine purpose." In his essay "The Fallacy of Humanism" (1929), he criticized the New Humanists for creating a value system without investing it with any identifiable source of authority. "Religion is the only technique for the validation of values," he wrote. Already attracted to Roman Catholicism, he deferred converting. Louis D. Rubin, Jr. observes that Tate may have waited "because he realized that for him at this time it would be only a strategy, an intellectual act".
Tate and Gordon were divorced in 1945 and remarried in 1946. Though devoted to one another for life, they could not get along and later divorced again.
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