Marion Montgomery, RIP

November 29, 2011

I have just learned that Marion Montgomery passed away last week. I actually know very little about the man; he was a poet and a literary critic, and a professor (I believe) at the University of Georgia. I take note of his death, with sadness, because years ago I read something by him that impressed me greatly, something that, in one way or another, has never been far from my mind for very long. It was a convocation address, and it convinced me, first, that I would do well to labour to become a person capable of writing such an address, and, second, that I should seek out more of his writing, for here was a man worth learning from.

Sadly, I haven’t done very well on either front in the intervening years. Nonetheless I shall miss him. Fare forward, traveller!

The address to which I refer can be read online:

Meanwhile we stand and sway, always in danger of the winds of the world, but the more endangered — because we are persons and not trees. We are tempted to presume beyond knowledge or understanding. At the most dangerous point, we presume to a comprehension absolute: a comprehension of whatever our gift of intellect rests upon at the moment. What we easily forget is that understanding accommodates us to an uncertainty, to an accepting of limits to our omniscience. By limit we are prevented — except as a self–induced and self–defeating illusion — from an absolute comprehension of any thing, including even ourselves. For comprehension is a property reserved to the nature of the Creator God, as are omnipotence and omniscience.

Read the whole thing.

7 Responses to “Marion Montgomery, RIP”

  1. Thanks for this. I don’t know much about Montgomery, although I’ve read some of his literary criticism, but perhaps I’ll try to find another of his books. Like you, I’m very impressed by this convocation address, particularly in comparison to the examples of that genre one typically hears; if I remember my own undergraduate convocation correctly, the address was given by a businessman who had just given the school a lot of money, and was on the theme of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

  2. cburrell Says:

    The convocation address for my doctorate was given by a geologist who dilated on the meaninglessness of our lives and all our accomplishments in the light of geologic time scales. Pretty inspiring stuff.

  3. Mac Says:

    I’m sorry to hear this. He was one of the last of a Southern literary culture that really doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s all…well, you know, gender race etc. I corresponded with him a bit 30 years ago and he was remarkably warm and gracious. I should have pursued the acquaintance but I was too wrapped up in job and family. I read his critical trilogy that begins with Why Flannery O’Connor Stayed Home, but, alas, I don’t think I understood very much–it was like that David Bentley Hart book, too full of philosophical erudition for me to follow very well.

  4. cburrell Says:

    Very interesting, Mac. I wondered if you might know something about him. I am a little surprised at what you say about his critical trilogy; the names of the books make them sound accessible.

  5. Mac Says:

    I thought so, too. I should take another look at them. It’s been a long time.

  6. Michael Walsh Says:

    I had a fruitful correspondence with Professor Montgomery from the late 80s into the early 2000s. A wonderful guy, who took a Yankee under his wing and imparted much knowledge.

    Marion Montgomery returned from serving in the infantry in WWII (he was also a guard at Nuremberg) to become professor of English at the University of GA. He went on to publish novels, short stories, poetry and later focused almost entirely on literary criticism deeply informed by theology and philosophy.

    Working on Georgia literary journals, he became acquainted with the cream of the Southern literary renaissance e.g. John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Andrew Lytle, Cleanth Brooks, Caroline Gordon, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, among many others.

    His literary criticism reflected a deep understanding of Catholic philosophy and reflection. An Episcopalian- he was definitely high church.

    As an introduction to his thinking start with books based on his lectures “Possum and Other Receits for the Recovery of “Southern” Being”(1986)
    or “The Trouble with You Innerleckchuls”(1988).

    Move on to his trilogy “The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age” (3 vols and hard to come by) from there. It’s a very rewarding journey! Marion Montgomery RIP.

  7. cburrell Says:

    Thank you kindly, Mr. Walsh. That is very interesting, and helpful too.

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