An American Addresses Philomela



Modernism is thought to be a writing period of many traits. Poets during this era seem to lose traditional values and hope, through social and economical changes (Hann). This feeling of hopelessness appears multiple times in the poem or story (Keane). Whether a character has lost hope in a dream or a beautiful aroma quickly disappears, a loss of hope is almost always shown in Modernistic writing (Keane). “An American Addresses Philomela” by John Crowe Ransom is a poem that fits this time period perfectly. Throughout this poem, Modernism traits are shown in characters and the overall plot (Ransom).

“An American Addresses Philomela” starts out explaining Procne, Philomela, and Itylus (Ransom). Ransom says
“Procne, Philomela, and Itylus,
Your names are liquid, your improbable tale
Is recited in the classic numbers of the nightingale.” (Ransom)
The beginning of this first stanza talks of Philomela’s story. The background on this story reveals that Philomela was the mother of Itylus (Hunter, Ransom). She was raped near a stream by a man named Thereus. After this violent act, he cut her tongue out, so she could not tell of the incident (Hunter). Later, Philomela wove a tapestry which revealed the facts of the incident to Procne (Thereus’ wife). Procne then wanted to get revenge (Hunter). She killed Itylus and cooked him (Hunter). These three lines by John Ransom relate to Modernism in their own way. The second line says “your names are liquid, your improbable tale” (Ransom). Liquid is referring to the water in which Philomela was raped near, and the improbable tale is referring to the story of Philomela (Hunter). This depressing and disastrous story is only the beginning of a hopelessness feeling for the reader. There is no doubt that this poem fits into the Modernism category because of the continuous loss of faith instilled by John Ransom. The amount of sympathy the reader feels during this poem only allows this work to fall into the Modernism category.

Another instance of “An American Addresses Philomela” fitting into the Modernism category was shown in lines twenty-nine through thirty-five (Ransom). Ransom says,
“There was no more villainous day to unfulfill,
The diuturnity was still,
Her fairy numbers issued; what then ailed me,
My ears are called capacious, but they failed me,
Her classics registered a little flat!” (Ransom)
The author said that the day was no more villainous, and her fairy numbers were issued. At this point the reader has a small sense of optimism (Ransom). This remains, until Ransom talks of the narrator’s ears failing him and her classic registering flat. After these statements, the reader once again has lost faith. The beautiful feeling of Philomela’s grace was gone (Ransom). This relates to Modernism just as the opening stanza does. Ransom first introduces a small amount of hope, before taking all good feeling away (Ransom).

Ransom could have written this poem for many reasons. One obvious reason is that he might have been deeply saddened by Philomela’s story and wanted to show his anguish towards Philomela. Ransom’s life could have also had an effect on how he wrote this poem. During his life, Ransom was married and had three children (Quinlan). He very well could have put himself into Philomela’s shoes. Ransom’s children were one of the many loves of his life, and to have his children murdered would be disastrous (Quinlan). Ransom also wrote in his poem “I pernoctated with the Oxford students once”. During his life, Ransom wrote letters from Oxford expressing his sympathies with the American pragmatists (Quinlan). The statement of lecturing Oxford students could have been placed into the poem because of Ransom’s life experiences.

This poem by John Crowe Ransom is similar to his other works in many ways. “Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter” for example is somewhat similar to “An American Addresses Philomela” (Hunter). In this poem the narrator encounters the dead body of the little girl. Ransom uses words like "sternly stopped" and "vexed", and says she is "lying so primly propped." (Hunter) This is somewhat like the reaction to the death of Philomela’s child (Ransom). In “An American Addresses Philomela” Ransom talks of Itys’ tale, but refuses to mention the death of the child (Ransom). He seems to avoid talking about a child dying at all costs (Ransom). Ransom used these sentimental situations in all of his stories to draw attention to the irregularities and disasters of life.

“An American Addresses Philomela” is considered to be a very unique poem. It is not similar to many of other works during the Modernism Age. “When the Negro Was in Vogue” is another poem in the Modernism time period. This poem is merely a reflection on the treatment of African Americans during the 1920’s (Hughes). The one similar trait between these two poems is the small change in surroundings. Since there are few similarities between these two Modernism works, it is necessary to point out the differences. “When the Negro Was in Vogue” is an uplifting story, in which African Americans are now being recognized for their well doings. African Americans are now becoming actors in movies, along with many other leading roles (Hughes). This poem is different than “An American Addresses Philomela” for that very reason. “When the Negro Was in Vogue” have high hopes for the future, while “An American Addresses Philomela” seems to have lost all hope in what the future holds (Hughes, Ransom).

In conclusion, “An American Addresses Philomela” relates to Modernism in many ways. Throughout the poem there is a lack of hope (Ransom). From the beginning to the final word the reader has a feeling of anguish (Ransom). They feel sympathy for Philomela’s story. It is also likely that Ransom wrote that poem because of events that occurred in his life (Quinlan). Ransom had three children, and this could be the main reason this poem was written (Quinlan). Finally, this poem relates to other works by John Ransom and other Modernism stories in how it was written. In these stories and poems the reader seems to have lost faith in whatever goal that was to be achieved. So “An American Addresses Philomela” by John Crowe Ransom, a poem in the Modernism period, is known for the sympathy expressed towards Philomela’s story, and will not be forgotten in the years to come.





Works Cited
Hann, Kellie T. "EDSITEment - Lesson Plan." EDSITEment - The Best of the Humanities on the Web. Academy of American Poets, 14 Jan. 2005. Web. 02 May 2010. <
http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=615>

Keane, Melba C. "Modernism." University of Toronto Scarborough. 2000. Web. 03 May 2010. <http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~mcuddy/ENGB02Y/Modernism.html>.

Hughes, Langston. "When the Negro Was in Vogue." North Penn School District. North Penn, 3 Mar. 1998. Web. 03 May 2010. <http://www.npenn.org/55777011985858/lib/55777011985858/ch%2013/sec%204%20PS%20Hughes/>.

Hunter, James. "Philomela." Encyclopedia Mythica: Mythology, Folklore, and Religion. MMVI Encyclopedia Mythica, 2 Mar. 1997. Web. 03 May 2010. <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/p/philomela.html>.

Quinlan, Kieran. "John Crowe Ransom's Life and Career." Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. American Council of Learned Societies, 1999. Web. 03 May 2010. <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/ransom/life.htm>.

Ransom, John C. "An American Addresses Philomela by John Crowe Ransom." PoemHunter.Com-Thousands of Poems and Poets. PoemHunter.Com, 14 July 2002. Web. 03 May 2010. <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/an-american-addresses-philomela/>.