Turn your eyes into the immoderate past,
Find there the inscrutable infantry rising,
The demons out of the earth--they will not last.
Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp,
Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run . . .
Thus wrote Allen Tate in a poem full of strange desperate questions, his "Ode to the Confederate Dead." I remembered those lines when I came to read his sturdy, biographical narrative, Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier, which is prose in form but really poetic in implication. I remembered, too, an admonition he once gave me. "Our past," he said, "is all but irrecoverable." But in StonewalI Jackson he has happily contradicted himself. This book is not troubled with desperate questions. It is a triumphant, unperplexed recapture of the heroic past as represented in a great, almost legendary figure.
But how is this? There is a certain surprise in this book. Nobody would have dreamed that Allen Tate's first volume would be a narrative about Stonewall Jackson. He was one of the leading spirits of the Fugitive group of Nashville poets, who at first could not be easily related to the older Southern tradition. In his own poetry he followed a difficult modern path. Later he went to New York and made his mark as one of the most brilliant critics there; in thoroughness and disinterestedness, in fact, he stands practically alone. One would think him more concerned about the French Symbolists, say, than the battle of Chancellorsville. Is he, then, playing a trick on us?
Not so! Somewhere he has found that the past is not only possible of recovery. It must be recovered, else we are lost