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Christopher Clarke

Mrs. Pritchard
English II Block IV
28 April 2015
John Crowe Ransom Research Paper
John Crowe Ransoms friends and colleagues described him as a man of quiet disposition and
extreme courtesy; so why did he write with such dark themes in mind?
John Crowe Ransom was born April 30, 1888, and died July 3, 1974. Ransom was born
in Pulaski, Tennessee and was the son of Methodist minister John James Ransom and his wife,
Ella Crowe. He had a strongly religious upbringing, yet his parents were always open-minded to
outside influences. Things for Ransom changed when Vanderbilt University accepted him at the
age of fifteen and graduated in 1909. From 1910 to 1913 he studied classics at Oxford, and by
1914, he received an instructorship at Vanderbilt. Afterwards he served in WWI, marrying in
1920, and finally left for Kenyon College in 1937.
At the beginning of Ransoms career, he was more focused on philosophy instead of
literature but that soon changed. When Ransom joined the Fugitive literary group, he began to
develop an interest in poetry. Ransom enjoyed poetry due to its unknown quality. He liked how
it was more imaginative than something practical. Indeed, Ransom seemed to have enjoyed
poetry very much; by the end of his career, he had published dozens of books and essays,
including Poems about God (1919), Chills and Fever (1924), Two Gentlemen in Bonds (1927),
The Fugitive (1922-1925), and The New Criticism (1941). With each published work, Ransoms
poetic skill sharpened, but in 1927, he quit writing poetry because he felt he had exhausted all of

his ideas. Years after leaving poetry, Ransom still received awards for his poems. After he joined
the Fugitive poets, he formed the New Criticism, evolving his prose work. Ransom's retirement
was a busy one, as he remained active in the academic community, writing new essays, revising
his poems, lecturing, and receiving honors and recognitions towards the end of his life.
Throughout his retirement, Ransom suffered from a variety of ailments, which led him to die in
his sleep at the age of eighty-six. Ransom writes old school, his themes based on the Old
Testament; full of fire and brimstone instead of love and kindness that the New Testament
preaches. God in the Old Testament was vengeful, and Ransom argued that the New Testament
should be re-written to include a crueler, more traditional God. This is an underlying theme to his
writing, though he had numerous other influences (Quinlan).
Many loved ones in John Crowe Ransom's life shaped his writing. The place to start, of
course, is with good ole Pops. John James Ransom was a preacher, and like a good preacher
does, he brought the ideals of the Bible home. This obviously left an impression on Ransom
because later in life he would argue at length about reviving the New Testament to be more like
the Old Testament because it would, represent the harshness of the universe as it actually is
rather than continue exalting a gentle Jesus (Quinlan). This dreary outlook permeated his work
and can be directly attributed to his fathers traditionalist outlooks. Ransoms writing was also
influenced by his fellow Fugitive Critics. The Fugitive Critics formed the New Criticism, a
philosophy that sought a purely objective look at poetry, where the life of the author does not
distract from the verses at hand. If Ransom had not been with the Fugitive Critics, he would not
have found the New Criticism he used so extensively throughout his work. Not only was John
Crowe Ransom influenced by people, he also influenced others through his work. Ransom was
not as well known as some of his peers, and is therefore often given the curious epithet of a

major minor poet; he contributed greatly to the academic community, but is not well known to
the general public. Ransom once remarked, With a serious poet each minor poem may be a
symbol of a major decision. It is as ranging and comprehensive an action as the mind has ever
tried (Quinlan). Every unknown poem of Ransoms was a product of his own unique decisions,
his contentment with minor poems as major decisions is evident he did not particularly mind
playing second fiddle to the poet big shots of the age.
Like some of the other poets at the time, Ransom was a modernist. Ransom had a unique
style; he would put his characters in awful situations to show that humans are not invincible, and
could die at any moment. Ransom is considered a modernist poet because modernism is about
new ideas and reinvention, and Ransoms New Criticism and unique flavor were radical in the
poet community. No five stories of Ransoms show his writing style better than A Winter
Remembered, Prelude to an Evening, Painted Head, Captain Carpenter, and Dead Boy.
A Winter Remembered, Prelude to an Evening, Painted Head, Captain
Carpenter, and Dead Boy are all great examples of the wonderful writing by John Crowe
Ransom and what he does with his tones. Every single one of these poems have a dark tone so
these represent his specific writing style very well. A Winter Remembered is the story of a
man who is in immense pain because of a broken heart. He travels out into the snow because he
thinks that the cold will numb him to the pain in his heart. The poem starts out with the line,
Two evils, monstrous either one apart (Ransom). Right off the bat the poem is somber; its
talking about two evils, the metaphorical monsters. The monsters are the pain of the break up
and then the pain of the cold, eating away at the mans heart in the poem.

A Winter Remembered showcases Ransoms dark writing style, as does another of his
poems, Dead Boy. Dead Boy tells the story of a young boy who just died and the family and
town are mourning the loss. The poem goes on to describe the boy as, A boy not beautiful, nor
good, nor clever (Ransom). The simplicity of the death of a child, however unremarkable he
might have been, is a powerful image for the reader.
The last poem of these five that fits most with his style is Captain Carpenter. This poem
is about a man unoriginally named Captain Carpenter and his life, specifically all of the women
in his life. Every woman Captain Carpenter has been through has brought him closer and closer
to Hell. Each woman is a little Hell themselves. The madness of the Captain reaches a peak as
Ransom writes, The curse of hell upon the sleek upstart/ That got the Captain finally on his
back/ And took the red red vitals of his heart (Ransom). All of these poems have a few common
threads; they all feature the main characters being put through the worst possible conditions,
visceral black imagery, and innovative storytelling. Ransoms poems told the story of the human
condition in its most base, degraded, and broken form.
John Crowe Ransom was an influential writer that lived an interesting life. He created
new ideas and styles that influenced many writers to come. He worked with a lot of other writers
to help form who he was as a writer and person. His style of dark and irony of human life was
something unique that made him a modernist poet. Though he never found widespread acclaim,
he was still an amazing writer.

Works Cited
Quinlan, Kieran. "John Crowe Ransom's Life and Career." illinois.edu. Ed. New
York: Oxford University Press. University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign,
1999. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/
ransom/life.htm>.

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