Allen Tate is one of the best poet-critics of our time. He ranks with John Crowe Ransom and Randall Jarrell, both of whom have been his associates at one time or another, while behind all three stand the example of Eliot, their acknowledged master. One stresses these relationships since the background of Essays of Four Decades is so heavily a part of the modernist sensibility and the development of contextualist criticism (or as it is popularly called, the New Criticism). Many of the pieces here (the earliest dates from 1928) have surely influenced more than one generation of graduate students, and some of Tate's once radical ideas are accepted theoretical dictums, e.g., ""The meaning of poetry is its 'tension,' the full organized body of all the extension and intension that we can find in it."" Nowadays Tate stands out (perhaps anachronistically) for his almost obsessive concern with aesthetic and moral unity, his hatred of secularist or naturalist ""heresy,"" and his anguished search (always apparent beneath his Southern gentleman prose) for absolute values or ""truth,"" which eventually brought about his conversion to Roman Catholicism in the Fifties. Surprisingly, ""Christ and the Unicorn,"" his most interesting and inflamed apologia for neo-orthodoxy is not included here, though his famous tributes to Poe and Hart Crane, two extremely unorthodox poets (and, oddly enough, his favorites), are very much present. A major retrospective.