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Bells For John Whiteside's Daughter By John Crowe Ransom

1607 words - 7 pages

John Crowe Ransom was one of the most influential writers of his time. As a poet, essayist, and teacher at Vanderbilt University and Kenyon College, Ransom was one of the prominent leaders of the Fugitive Agrarians and the founder of the New Criticism school of literary criticism and the literary journal, Kenyon Review. His works fall into many different literary movements but the majority of his poems fall within the Fugitive-Agrarianism, now known as the Southern Renaissance, movement that emphasized classicism and traditionalism.

The writers that were part of the Southern Renaissance, including Ransom, gathered to write a collection of essays that promoted and revitalized Southern literature in the United States. They were known for “representing the tensions and paradoxes that resulted from the collision of Northern and Southern ideologies” (Holmgren para. 3). Comparably, the Fugitive agrarians “emphasized traditional poetic forms and techniques, and their poems developed intellectual and moral themes focusing on an individual's relationship to society and to the natural world” (Davis para. 1). Both groups were especially focused on the intrusion of Northern industrialism and destruction of Southern agrarian culture. Ransom uses bursts of imagery of rural life that reflects the agricultural aspects that the Southern Renaissance movement stressed. He channels a lot of natural scenery in his poem, Miriam Tazewell, but a darker and more gruesome stage in Winter Remembered. In Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter, Ransom embraces rustic details of the countryside, noting the “orchard trees”, “lazy geese [...] Dripping their snow on the green grass”, and “noon apple-dreams and scuttle / Goose-fashion under the skies!” (Ransom 6-16). Similarly, Bells of John Whiteside’s Daughter is often compared to The Dead Boy, also by Ransom, that also describes the death of a child and reflects on the reactions to the death. In both poems, Ransom holds a certain attitude for the children and “uses seemingly sentimental situations to probe the unsentimental realities of life” (Talley para. 1).

Ransom’s Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter is an elegy for the death of a young girl that used to be so lively and active. “There was such speed in her little body, / And such lightness in her footfall” (Ransom 1-2). The elegy comes in three parts: the mourning of the death, the admiration of the dead, and the acceptance of the death. The poem fits perfectly with Ransom’s writing style in themes of “conflict of the body and the soul, the transience of life, the passing of beauty and love, myth, and tradition” (Allegrezza para. 4). The mourning of the little girl’s death begins when Ransom describes the image of the girl’s “brown study”, a term, not used so often in the modern day, representing the stillness of a person’s body due to deep thinking or concentration or in this situation, death, as a dire contrast to her personality when she was alive. To everyone, it...

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