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A John Crowe Ransom Chronology

from Special Collections, Vanderbilt University

John Crowe Ransom was born April 30, in Pulaski, Tennessee, the third of the four children of John James Ransom (1853-1934) and Sara Ella Crowe Ransom (1859-1947); his siblings were Annie Phillips, Richard B. (Dick), and Ella Irene (Ellene).

Ransom lived in four Middle Tennessee communities served by his father, a Methodist minister; Spring Hill, Franklin, Springfield, and Nashville. Educated at home until he was ten, Ransom entered public school in October, 1898.

In September entered the Bowen School in Nashville. Angus Gordon Bowen, the headmaster, Ransom wrote many years later, "did more for my ... education than any other man."

In June he was graduated at the head of his class from Bowen, and in September he entered Vanderbilt University.

Taught sixth and seventh grades at Taylorsville (Mississippi) High School.

Taught Latin and Greek at the Haynes-McLean School in Lewisburg, Tennessee.

Reentered Vanderbilt; selected for Phi Beta Kappa at the end of his junior year; elected editor of the Observer, the undergraduate literary magazine, in the spring of 1908; on June 16, 1909, was graduated from Vanderbilt at the head of his class.

Senior master and co-principal of Haynes-McLean, he taught Latin and Greek to the sixth form and was chief academic officer of the school.

At Christ Church College, Oxford, as Rhodes scholar; read 'The Greats' (the School of Literae Humaniores) and in summers traveled extensively in the British Isles and on the Continent; his degree from Oxford was deemed the 'best of the Seconds.'

Taught Latin at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, where he met and shared literary ideas with Samuel Claggert Chew, a member of the English department; read English literature seriously for the first time and began to formulate his ideas on the nature and function of poetry in conversations with Chew and in letters to his father.

In September, 1914, joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University as instructor of English; published his first essay, 'The Question of Justice,' in the Yale Review (July, 1915); in the fall of 1914 began a series of informal discussions of philosophy and literature with a group of students and friends, later known as the Fugitives: Donald Davidson (the Donald Davidson Papers are also in Special Collections), Alec B. Stevenson, William Yandell Elliott, Stanley Johnson, and Sidney Mttron Hirsch; summer of 1915 read his first poem, 'Sunset,' to Davidson; on May 12, 1917, reported with Davidson to Officers' Training Camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia; during summer read to Davidson some of the poems later to appear in Poems About God.

Was commissioned in August, 1917, and assigned to Field Artillery Training Base in Saumur, France; sent to the front as a member of the Fifth Field Artillery in January, 1918; in April, 1918, reassigned to Saumur as instructor; Alec Stevenson and William Frierson, later members of the Fugitive group, attended the artillery school while Ransom was an instructor; on May 13, 1918, sent complete draft of Poems About God to Christopher Morley, who had been at Oxford with Ransom and who helped him find a publisher, Henry Holt and Company; upon recommendation of Robert Frost the book was published in spring 1919; enrolled at the universities of Grenoble and Nancy in spring and summer of 1919 while awaiting orders to return to the United States for discharge; first poems appeared in print: 'One Who Rejected Christ,' Independent (July 27, 1918); 'Roses,' Contemporary Verse (December, 1918); 'Darkness' and 'Under the Locusts,' Independent (June 28, 1919); at Nancy first saw copies of Poems About God.

Arrived in New York in mid-August, uncertain of future plans; explored possibility of career in publishing in New York or in teaching in an eastern university; arrived in Nashville in late August and decided to return to Vanderbilt to be near aging parents; in the fall of 1919 Fugitive group met at home of Sidney Hirsch's brother-in-law, James M. Frank, at 3802 Whitland Avenue; in January, 1920, met Robb Reavill of Denver, Colorado to whom he was married on December 22, 1920; in November, 1921, Allen Tate began attending Fugitive meetings and discussions of the group, which soon were almost exclusively concerned with poems written by its members; daughter Helen born January 17, 1922; in April, 1922, the first of nineteen issues of The Fugitive appeared (most of Ransom's best poetry was published in this little periodical); in 1922 began correspondence with Robert Graves; review of The Waste Land, to which Tate responded, appeared in Literary Review (July 14, 1923); in spring of 1923 Tate brought Robert Penn Warren to Fugitive meeting; during 1923 published twenty-one poems, all but three in The Fugitive; a son, Reavill, was born September 14, 1923; Chills and Fever was accepted by Alfred Knopf in May, 1924, and a few weeks later, with assistance from T.S. Eliot, Graves convinced Hogarth to bring out Grace After Meat in England; received serious consideration for Pulitzer prize in poetry, which went to Edwin Arlington Robinson, in 1924; Ransom's first serious critical essays appeared in The Fugitive: 'Mixed Modes' (March, 1925); 'Thoughts on the Poetic Discontent' (June, 1925); 'A Doctrine of Relativity' (September, 1925); the last issue of The Fugitive appeared in December, 1925.

Spent leave from Vanderbilt during fall of 1925 composing a book-length manuscript on the nature and function of poetry, entitled 'The Third Moment,' and later destroyed because it was "hopelessly abstract"; a detailed summary of the ideas he hoped to include in this manuscript is included in letter to Tate (September 5, 1926); in January, 1927, Two Gentlemen in Bonds appeared and was hailed by reviewers as a major achievement by one of the most important poets of the era; promoted to professor of English at Vanderbilt in June, 1927; in 1926 his correspondence with Tate turned from discussion of literary theory toward the concepts of society and culture presented in I'll Take My Stand (1930) to which Ransom contributed the introduction and an essay; at work, beginning in 1928, on God without Thunder (1930); published 'Classical and Romantic,' on September 14, 1929, an essay in which he outlined the basic thesis of The World's Body (1938); 1927-1930: the discussions resulting in I'll Take My Stand occurred; in 1930-1931 Ransom engaged in a series of public debates with Stringfellow Barr, William S. Knickerbocker, and William D. Anderson on the principles of Agrarianism.

The Ransoms spent the academic year 1931-1932 in England on Guggenheim fellowship; Ransom published 'The State and the Land' (New Republic, February, 1932) and 'Land! An Answer to the Unemployment Problem' (Harper's, July, 1932); began work on essays to appear in The World's Body and published first two: 'A Poem Nearly Anonymous' and 'A Poem Nearly Anonymous: A Poet and His Formal Tradition' in May and September, 1933; published 'Modern with the Southern Accent' (April, 1935) and 'What Does the South Want?' (April, 1936) in the Virginia Quarterly Review; the latter is Ransom's contribution to the second Agrarian symposium, Who Owns America? (1936); his son John James (called Jack) born April 12, 1935; left Vanderbilt to become professor of poetry at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in September, 1937; published 'Shakespeare at Sonnets' in Southern Review (Winter, 1938); The World's Body appeared from Scribner's in late winter 1938; during winter of 1937-1938 began discussions with Gordon Chalmers, president of Kenyon, about publication of a review; first issue of Kenyon Review appeared in January, 1939; began work on The New Criticism in summer of 1938 and published first essay to appear in the book in Southern Review in winter 1939; became Carnegie professor of poetry at Kenyon in spring 1939 and declined offer to become chairman of the English department of the Woman's College of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The New Criticism appeared from New Directions, in spring of 1941; in spring of 1942 Southern Review (old series) was discontinued, and the Kenyon Review took over 'all unexpired subscriptions'; during 1944 and 1945, with the assistance of Doubleday, Doran and Company, the Kenyon Review offered a first prize of $500 and a second prize of $250 for the best short stories 'submitted by a writer who has not published a book of stories'; Selected Poems appeared from Knopf in spring of 1945 and reviews indicate Ransom's reputation as a poet was already firmly established; from 1945 to 1945 the Rockefeller Foundation supported a series of Kenyon Review fellows; from 1948 through 1950 this foundation supported the Kenyon School of English, which had on its faculty the most celebrated writers and critics of the time and attracted to Gambier many returning veterans and other students seriously interested in the study of literature; on December 30, 1947, Ransom became a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters; the summer 1948 issue of the Sewanee Review was devoted to 'a tribute to Ransom on his sixtieth birthday'; Ransom spent the academic year 1949-1950 as visiting professor at Indiana University.

In the summer of 1951 the Kenyon School of English moved to Indiana University and became the School of Letters; on January 22, 1951, he received the Bollingen prize in poetry for 1950 and a few weeks later the Russell Loines Award in Literature from the National Institute of Arts and Letters; in 1951 Ransom edited, with introduction, The Kenyon Critics; from 1953 to 1955 Kenyon Review offered a fellowship each year to a poet, a writer of fiction, and a critic; among those receiving these awards were Irving Howe, Flannery O'Connor, W.S.Merwin, R.W.B. Lewis, Howard Nemerov and Richard Ellman; the fellowships were renewed for 1956-1958 and attracted, among others, Delmore Schwartz, James Wright, Andrew Lytle, J.F. Powers, Elizabeth Spencer, Leslie Fiedler, and Francis Fergusson; Ransom taught at School of Letters three summers: 1952, 1954 and 1958; published two of his most important critical essays in the mid-1950s, both in the Kenyon Review: 'The Concrete Universal: Observations on the Understanding of Poetry, I' (Autumn, 1954) and 'The Concrete Universal: Observations on the Understanding of Poetry, II' (Summer, 1955); on January 13, 1956 he presented 'New Poets and Old Muses,' as one of the Gertrude Clarke Whittal poetry lectures at the Library of Congress; returned to Vanderbilt for the Fugitives' reunion May 3-5, 1956; became honorary consultant in American literature for the Library of Congress; received the Creative Arts Committee Award in Poetry from Brandeis University on January 28, 1958; retired from teaching in the spring of 1958 and from the editorship of the Kenyon Review in the spring of 1959.

Visiting professor at Northwestern University for the winter term, 1960; participant in Vanderbilt Literary Symposium on April 20-21; returned to Vanderbilt as visiting professor, fall 1960; on December 4, 1962, received $5,000 award from the Academy of American Poets for distinguished poetic achievement; in April, 1963, a new edition of Selected Poems appeared; John Crowe Ransom: A Tribute from the Community of Letters appeared; and the spring issue of Shenandoah was a 'Tribute to John Crowe Ransom on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday'; the Kenyon Review sponsored a symposium on the subject: 'Quo Vadimus? Or the Books Still Unwritten,' with Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Robert Lowell, Robie Macauley, and Stephen Spender as participants; published essay on Wallace Stevens in Kenyon Review (Winter, 1964); in winter of 1964 made extended trip to California; on March 10, 1964, received National Book Award for Selected Poems (1963); wrote essay on 'Gerontion' for Sewanee Review (Spring, 1966); on December 16, 1966, elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters; in July, 1966, received $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, an award made to a small number of 'distinguished senior American writers'; on April 28, 1967, Martin College in Pulaski, Tennessee, gave a dinner honoring Ransom on his eightieth birthday; with other Agrarians participated, in mid-April, 1968, in Southern Literary Festival at the University of Dallas; a dinner was held in his honor at Kenyon on April 30, 1968, at which Allen Tate was the principal speaker; a third edition of Selected Poems appeared in April, 1968, and The World's Body, with a lengthy postscript, was reissued by Louisiana State University Press at the same time; on May 9, 1968, received Emerson-Thoreau Medal and an award of $1,000 from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; made last public appearance at Kenyon College on February 27, 1973, in presenting Robert Penn Warren, who was in Gambier to read his poetry; his poem 'Four Threesomes or Three Foursomes' appeared in Sewanee Review for summer 1973; died in his sleep in Gambier, Ohio on July 3, 1974; was cremated, and his ashes buried behind the Chalmers Library on the Kenyon College campus.


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