Poem Analysis - "Ode to the Confederate Dead"
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English IV Honors Erin Maglaque Poem Analysis Feb. 9 "Ode to the Confederate Dead" The lyric poem "Ode to the Confederate Dead" was written by Allen Tate over a period of ten years. "Ode" was published in 1937, and it was the only poem about which Tate wrote an explanatory essay entitled, 'Narcissus as Narcissus."1 The poem is constructed to tell the thoughts of persona as he stops by the gate of a Confederate graveyard. Persona's thoughts and reflections upon the soldiers who died is the subject of the poem; through imagery and diction, the reader is allowed to then unearth the theme of the poem: a combination of two philosophies about the human mind, narcissism and solipsism. However, in order to understand the connection between the soldiers and the abstract theories of narcissism and solipsism, it is crucial to understand persona. The imagery and diction written by Tate but effectually used by persona is the connection between the subject and the theme. While Tate does not make many historical allusions, the one stanza that begins, "Stonewall, Stonewall..."2 makes reference to Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate general, and several battles that took place during the Civil War. Also, two metaphorical allusions are made when Tate writes, "The gray lean spiders come..."3 which is a metaphor for the gray uniforms the Confederates wore, and "The singular screech-owl's tight / Invisible lyrics seeds the mind / with the furious murmur of their chivalry."4 The latter is a reference to the high, screeching call of the Confederate soldiers as they went into battle. Persona stops by the gate of a Confederate graveyard.
It is often thought of as a single concept that holds together all the perceptions and thoughts of a single being.19 In narcissism, the ego is devoted entirely to itself, or rather, a human being loves itself intensely and with a huge focus. This theory is rooted in the Greek myth of Narcissus, a young man who falls in love with his reflection in a pool of water (much like the jaguar). He becomes so infatuated with himself that he leaps into the pool at an attempt to take hold of himself, or really his reflection, and drowns himself in doing so. This myth explains the philosophical theory of narcissism perfectly - an intense love for oneself. Solipsism, on the other hand, is much more complicated. The literal definition is, "A theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing."20 The theory of solipsism is based on the ego being a collection of perceptions and ideas. Because these perceptions change over time, the ego must constantly change as well. Therefore, the ego is a changing concept, as well as everything that the ego perceives. The universe is thus a changing and changeable whole, because it is perceived by the ego - which is clearly alluded to in the poem when Tate mentions Zeno and Parmenides.21 Persona, through talking with the dead, gives the reader insight into his internal conflict. Persona can be connected to the overall theme of the poem in many of the same ways the Confederate soldiers were connected to the theme of the poem; that is, diction and imagery give the reader a sense of struggle within persona to grasp his own problems and sort them out.
We shall say only the leaves Flying, plunge and expire 75 We shall say only the leaves whispering In the improbable mist of nightfall That flies on multiple wing: Night is the beginning and the end And in between the ends of distraction 80 Waits mute speculation, the patient curse That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim. What shall we say who have knowledge Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act 85 To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave In the house? The ravenous grave? Leave now The shut gate and the decomposing wall: The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush, 90 Riots with his tongue through the hush-- Sentinel of the grave who counts us all! 1 "Allen Tate - The Academy of American Poets" http://www.poets.org/poems/Poemprnt.cfm 2 "Ode to the Confederate Dead." Tate, Allen. From "Allen Tate - The Academy of American Poets" http://www.poets.org/poems/Poemprnt.cfm 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 "Ode to the Confederate Dead." Tate, Allen. From "Allen Tate - The Academy of American Poets" http://www.poets.org/poems/Poemprnt.cfm 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 "Solipsism: The Burning Questions" Jurish, Bryan R. (c) 1995. http://www.ling.uni-potsdam.de/~moocow/old/solpsm.html 16 "Ode to the Confederate Dead." Tate, Allen. From "Allen Tate - The Academy of American Poets" http://www.poets.org/poems/Poemprnt.cfm 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid. 19 "Solipsism: The Burning Questions" Jurish, Bryan R. (c) 1995. http://www.ling.uni-potsdam.de/~moocow/old/solpsm.html 20 Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Inc. (c)1989. 21 "Solipsism: The Burning Questions" Jurish, Bryan R. (c) 1995. http://www.ling.uni-potsdam.de/~moocow/old/solpsm.html 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid.
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